Norman Lamb 180The annual number of unexpected deaths of mental health patients in England has risen by 21% in the past three years, and the reasons for this spike need to be investigated, a former government minister has claimed.

New NHS figures show that in England, the annual number of deaths among mental health patients in the past three years has risen from 1,412 to 1,713. In addition, the number of those taking their own life or attempting to has risen by 26% - from 595 in 2012/13 to 751 in 2014/15. This covers inpatients and those being treated in the community.

Liberal Democrat MP Norman Lamb (pictured), who until May 2015 was Care Services Minister, has also obtained figures, revealed in The Guardian, that show the overall number of ‘serious incidents’ – involving unexpected or avoidable deaths, serious harm, injury and abuse – has climbed 34% to 8,139 a year.

Lamb compared the figures with the Mid Staffordshire scandal, where hundreds of patients died due to poor care over four years.

“Significant numbers of unexpected deaths at the Mid Staffs NHS trust caused an outcry and these figures should cause the same because they show a dramatic increase in the number of people losing their lives,” Lamb told The Guardian.

“NHS England and the government should set up an investigation into the causes of this as these figures involve tragedies for families around the country and the human impact is intense.” 

Lamb added that the blame for this increase is that underfunded mental health services are struggling to cope with demand for care – which has been rising for some years.

The call for an investigation has been backed by the Equality and Human Rights Commission. A spokesperson for the Commission said: “These figures reveal serious cracks in our systems of care for those with mental health conditions.

“It is nearly one year since we published our inquiry into the non-natural deaths of hundreds of people with mental health conditions detained in psychiatric hospitals, prisons and police cells. In particular, it called for a new system of independent investigations into unexpected deaths of people detained in hospitals to match what exists in other settings. It is vital that this is now implemented and lessons are learned to prevent further avoidable harm and heartbreak.”

Luciana Berger, Shadow Minister for Mental Health, also called for action. “This drastic increase in the number of people losing their lives in NHS care is utterly appalling and tragic for all families involved. It must act as a serious wake up call for Ministers. 

"At a time of rising demand, the Government has presided over service cuts and staff shortages, with devastating consequences. 

"It’s high time the government accepted their failings on mental health and translated their empty rhetoric into the action that is desperately needed.”