The public inquiry into nearly 2,000 mental health patients' deaths in Essex has been widened, officials have confirmed.

Initially focusing on cases between 2000 and 2020, the inquiry will now incorporate incidents up until December 31, 2023.

Initially, the investigation was zeroing in on treatment offered by the North Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust, the South Essex Partnership University NHS Trust, and the Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust, who assumed the county's mental health services in 2017.

In addition to the original plans, the North-East London Foundation Trust's Essex care services will also now be probed.

The inquiry, known as the Essex Mental Health Independent Inquiry, was established in 2021.

In June 2023, Health Secretary Steve Barclay sanctioned enhanced powers for the inquiry into the Trust, due to disappointingly low participation from former and current staff members.

This step was taken after more than 14,000 members were contacted and only 11 agreed to partake in an evidence session, however, the inquiry now has statutory footing.

This endows the inquiry with legal rights to obligate parties to provide evidence.

The inquiry is headed by Baroness Lampard, and its new terms of reference now encompass the evaluation of:

  • Serious failings related to the delivery of safe and therapeutic inpatient treatment and care.

  • The actions, practices and behaviours of staff providing mental health inpatient care.

  • The culture and governance of and at the Trusts and how that affected care and treatment.

The probe will also examine investigations run by the Trusts and their interactions with other public bodies, such as health inspectors and coroners.

Victoria Atkins, health and social care secretary, said: "Patients should feel confident, safe and supported – especially when receiving help for their mental health, which can be an incredibly vulnerable experience.

"This was not the case for mental health inpatients in Essex between 2000 and 2023, where so many patients ended up tragically and needlessly passing away, leaving their bereaved families with questions that need answering.

"We take this need seriously, and through the Lampard Inquiry, we will ensure lessons are learned and patient safety is improved."