Ministers have been accused of failing young people in mental health units, after revealing there have been 11 deaths in just four years.
Campaigners have reacted with horror at a higher-than-expected total – and because the Government claimed it did not know the number of deaths before 2013.
Worse, ministers have been accused of failing to come up with a plan to end the “confusion and secrecy” surrounding those deaths and to learn lessons from them.
Hopes that details of any future fatalities would be given to Parliament and independently investigated had been dashed, the campaigners said.
The controversy has blown up after the Department of Health (DH) admitted, last year, that it was unaware how many young people had died as mental health in-patients.
Inquest, a charity for bereaved families, had highlighted some “really shocking cases”, including the deaths of a 14-year-old girl who tied a scarf around her neck and a 15-year-old boy with a history of self-harm.
At one point, DH said four deaths of young people in mental health units had been recorded – while Inquest estimated there had been nine.
Now, in a statement, health minister Nicola Blackwood has told MPs: “Officials have now made a detailed assessment of the available data.
“I can confirm that there have been eleven deaths of patients under the care of mental health inpatient services, both inside and outside of the premises since January 2013.
“It is not possible to provide an accurate figure on the number of deaths prior to this time period, due to the commissioning arrangements and data collection methods which were in place at that time.”
Ms Blackwood said DH would now “notify the National Confidential Inquiry into Suicide and Homicide if a self-inflicted death has occurred”.
And she pointed to an “ambitious transformation programme” already put in place to give mentally-ill young people the support they need.
But the response was condemned as “complacent and inadequate” by Deborah Coles, the director of Inquest – in particular, the failure to promise independent investigations of deaths.
Ms Coles said: “There’s no commitment to that in this answer.
“The death of a child in the care of mental health services is a human rights issue, in the same way as a death in a prison, or a young offenders’ institution, or in police custody.
“We hoped the Government response would be to promise both independent investigations and parliamentary scrutiny, and the opportunity for families to be represented at an inquest.
“We hoped the Government would recognise they had failed in the past and would now move forward with more transparent oversight, to show that lessons had been learned.
“We really hoped that children in mental health services would – particularly after Theresa May’s speech on mental health – be treated as a high political priority.
“This response is complacent and inadequate. It is not the comprehensive answer that we were looking for.”
Ms Coles said the pledge to notify the National Confidential Inquiry was inadequate, because it “can’t scrutinise individual circumstances”.
And she added: “They are still not able to give accurate figures prior to 2013.