A NEW report has praised the progress made by a Hampshire mental health trust that was criticised for failing to investigate the deaths of patients.

Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust has made “significant improvements” in the way it handles the issue and now involves family members in the process.

The Calmore-based trust runs a series of services for people with mental health problems Hampshire and four other counties across the south.

A previous report commissioned by NHS England and compiled by auditors Mazars examined the deaths of 10,306 patients between April 2011 and March, 2015. It found that 722 were classed as unexpected but only 272 were investigated.

Following its publication a major inquiry was launched by the Care Quality Commission (CQC), which regulates the industry.

The new report, published by Niche Health, Social Care Consulting and Grant Thornton LLP, said: “The trust has made significant improvements in all the areas recommended in the Mazars report.

“We believe the trust has changed the culture within the organisation to the point that continual improvement is very likely.”

The report also praises the appointment of a family liaison officer to support bereaved families.

Trust officials say unrestricted access was granted to the investigators, who reviewed more than 250 documents, interviewed key members of staff and observed meetings in progress.

Nick Broughton, the trust’s chief executive, said: “Improving is our top priority so I feel encouraged by these findings, which suggest that Southern Health is making genuine progress.

“We will not stop working to create the culture of constant learning and improvement our patients and their families deserve.”

Lynne Hunt, the trust’s chairman, added: “The Mazars report was a watershed moment for Southern Health and triggered wide-ranging changes which are still continuing to this day.

“Our new approach is making a difference and I hope this will reassure people using our services.”

The report’s publication follows years of controversy created by allegations that patients have died as a result of chronic failings by the trust.

Last year the organisation pleaded guilty to breaching health and safety laws following the suicide of Teresa Colvin, of Lyndhurst, who was found hanged at Woodhaven Hospital, Calmore, in 2012.

The case came just weeks after the trust admitted failings following the death of teenage patient Connor Sparrowhawk.

Mr Sparrowhawk, 18, drowned in a bathtub at Slade House, Oxford, in 2013. He had suffered an epileptic fit and an inquest ruled that neglect had played a part in his death.

Last year the trust was fined £161,000 after a patient fell from the roof of Melbury Lodge mental health unit, Winchester, in 2015 and was seriously injured.

The issues led, a after a long period of controversy, to the departure of the chief executive Katrina Percy.