COUNCILLORS have been gagged from speaking about a leaked report that accuses health chiefs of failing to investigate the deaths of more than 1,000 people, the Daily Echo can reveal.

Southampton City Council’s press office sent out a blanket email to all 48 elected members ordering them to remain silent in the aftermath of damning accusations against Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust.

In a series of emails seen by the Daily Echo the council urges councillors to refer calls from the media to the authority’s communications team so they can “manage” their response.

The senior communications officer also describes how media coverage of the report, which is yet to be released officially, will cause concern and asks councillors to tell any residents who make contact with them to instead call the NHS.

Furious opposition councillors today defiantly refused to be silenced - branding the orders “disgusting”.

But Labour’s health boss, Cllr Dave Shields, insisted it was right to ask all councillors not to speak amid fears they will make “ill-informed” comments that could jeopardise the council and its standing with NHS organisations in the area.

As previously reported, the leaked document criticises the trust for “ failure of leadership” alleging it failed to investigate the deaths of more than 1,000 people, while probes that did take place were of poor quality.

However the Trust, which runs several hospitals across Hampshire including Hythe and Melbury Lodge, says it has “serious concerns” about how evidence was interpreted in the draft report and insists services have improved.

Cllr Andrew Pope, Independent ward councillor for Redbridge, said: “I am disgusted that the council appears to have tried to silence me as an opposition councillor.

“It is my duty as a local representative to ask such questions on issues of concern to the public, and to scrutinise the council and local care providers.”

He added that it was crucial any potential lessons are learned in light of the Mid Staffordshire NHS and the Rotherham child abuse scandals.

Royston Smith, Tory MP for Southampton Itchen, added: “It isn’t for the council to tell people if they can talk or not. People should be cautious, but in the end if a councillor says something inaccurate they will be held personally responsible.”

Cllr Don Thomas of the Independent Anti Cuts Group branded the email “outrageous” and said: “I am elected to to represent the people and no-one, but no-one will gag me.”

But Cllr Dave Shields, Labour’s cabinet member for health, who helped draft the email, said it was important fellow councillors did not “rush in to responding”.

He said: “I’m not trying to gag anyone. It’s about making sure people don’t say anything ill-informed that don’t jeopardise us. If councillors say things that aren’t accurate it affects our integrity and standing with NHS partners.”

The report was commissioned by NHS England and carried out by audit firm Mazars, looking at all of the deaths of trust patients between April 2011 and March 2015.

During that period 10,306 people died, of which 1,454 were expected deaths, but the report found that just 195 had been investigated having been deemed as a “serious incident requiring investigation”.

The report criticises Southern Health over a number of failings, saying that it did not use data effectively; that there was no comprehensive approach to learning from patient deaths; and that too few deaths among people with learning difficulties or who were over 65 with mental health problems were looked into.

  • The “gagging” email:

An email sent to all councillors by the communications department seen by the Echo said: “You may be aware of media coverage surrounding Southern Health Foundation Trust and the coverage of this story may continue.”

The message continues: “The Communications team are working with the CCG, NHS England and other agencies. If you receive any request from the media for comment please direct them to contact us to allow us to manage any response.”