MINISTERS must take responsibility for failings at Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust and the chief executive should be sacked, Labour has said.

A Care Quality Commission (CQC) report published at the end of April found the trust was still failing to protect patients from risk of harm after an independent investigation found in December it had failed to investigate hundreds of deaths since 2011.

Labour's shadow mental health minister Luciana Berger today said the CQC report suggested "very little" had been done to improve the performance of the trust.

Fareham MP Suella Fernandes called on Health Minister Alistair Burt to take urgent action, saying: "Does the Minister agree that the resignation of the Chairman is a measure of the seriousness of this issue, and that after two damning reports, serious changes in the leadership are now needed?

"What reassurance can he offer to my constituents in Fareham, such as the family of David West, that the regulatory bodies have the powers necessary if intervention is required?"

The Health Minister, Alistair Burt MP, replied: "I think since last year there have been nine changes to the Board, and of course the Chair of the Board left last weekend.  NHS Improvement has the powers to alter governance, and I know from speaking to them they take that power and responsibility extremely seriously. 

"‘The balance is between ensuring there’s continuity and stability to make sure that what the Trust has promised is actually delivered, rather than a wholescale change which would simply provide an opportunity for any further delay and prevent the work from going on.  But I know NHS Improvement is very aware of their responsibilities in relation to governance, as I hope is the Trust itself."

Mr Burt admitted the report made for "disturbing reading" as he said the Government had not ruled out the possibility of an inquiry.

One of those who died while in the trust's care was 18-year-old Connor Sparrowhawk.

A jury inquest ruled in October that neglect contributed to his death after he drowned following an epileptic seizure at Slade House in Headington, Oxfordshire.

Raising the issue as an urgent question in the Commons, Ms Berger said: "The scandal at Southern Health has happened on this Government's watch and ministers must take responsibility for what has happened to some of the most vulnerable people in our country.

"We should be angry that Connor Sparrowhawk was left to drown in a bath.

"We should be angry that Angela Smith took her own life. We should be angry that David West died in the care of this NHS trust.

"His father was repeatedly ignored when he raised his concerns.

"All of them denied the care they so desperately needed."

Ms Berger told the House that what had happened at Southern amounted to a "major scandal".

The trust's chairman Mike Petter resigned hours before the publication of the CQC report.

And Ms Berger said the current chief executive, Katrina Percy, should also have to leave the trust.

She asked Mr Burt: "Do you agree with me that the position of the chief executive is now untenable and she should be sacked?"

But Mr Burt would not comment on the future of Ms Percy, telling the House it was "not the appropriate thing to do".

He said: "The power to deal with management change is held by NHS Improvement. Now I do offer just a brief word of caution.

"There is a track record of ministers speaking out about the removal of people in positions over which they have no authority at great cost."

He also moved to assure the House that Southern is "safe" for patients.

He said: "They are safe because CQC, as we know, has powers to shut down places immediately if there is a risk to patients."

Mr Burt said he had spoken to the CQC and was "absolutely persuaded" that if grounds to close the trust had been found the watchdog would have acted.

On the issue of the inquiry, he said: "I don't know yet. I want to wait and see what comes out of the further work that's being done in relation to the trust.

"I'm not ruling out some form of further inquiry but remember the inquiry is physically being done now by the action that's taking place on the ground.

"What needs to follow is urgent action to respond to what the CQC has said, not a long drawn out public inquiry which is not necessarily the right answer.

"But should there be more necessary, there might be."

Mr Burt also expressed "deep concern and apology to the patients and family members who will again have felt let down" by the contents of the CQC report.

The CQC report found that robust arrangements to probe incidents, including deaths, had not been put in place, resulting in "missed opportunities" to prevent similar events.

Meanwhile, effective measures to identify, record or respond to concerns about patient safety raised by patients, their carers, staff or by the CQC had also not been implemented.

The CQC report was ordered by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt.

Tory Kit Malthouse urged the minister to set a deadline for the trust to show improvements, to reassure patients and their families.

The North West Hampshire MP asked the minister: "I'm keen to know if you have a hard date by which the trust is to be reviewed again and if it were to fail that hurdle, what would the next action be?

"Simply revocation of the licence or further improvement? You will understand that most of my constituents want to see a deadline by which compliance must be made and after that, that there is significant change that might mean a new era at Southern Health?"

But the minister instead said there will be "constant monitoring" of the trust and the CQC can launch further unannounced inspections if necessary.

He added the CQC has further powers, including prosecution, and "none of these measures are being ruled out".

Labour's Marie Rimmer pressed him further on whether the CQC would be prepared to exercise its powers.

The St Helens South and Whiston MP said: "Will you assure me that you will watch very carefully how the CQC uses those powers and that they are used appropriately, because if they are not we are once again failing these very vulnerable people?"

He said: "We do have to make absolutely sure that if decisions do need to be taken they are taken and if not there's a good explanation why."

Speaker John Bercow called for a transcript of the debate to be sent to the Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust.

He said: "They need to know that we have treated of them, and what has been said, politely and with notable restraint, but with very real anxiety in all parts of the House about the situation within its aegis."