Obituary for Edana Minghella

Obituary for Edana Minghella

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Health researcher, screenwriter and jazz singer Edana Minghella, who died of endometrial cancer at the age of 63, played a key role in restoring trust in community care for people with mental illness after public confidence was eroded by a series of scandals in the 1990s had been shaken.

Governments have had a policy for 30 years of closing the UK’s long-stay psychiatric hospitals and instead supporting people in the community through therapy, practical support and sustained-release medicines. But a series of serious incidents, including the 1992 killing of Jonathan Zito by Christopher Clunis, led to growing calls for a reversal of this policy.

Minghella, who was program director at what was then the Sainsbury Center for Mental Health, led a team evaluating a new approach being developed in North Birmingham that involved 24/7 crisis resolution teams responding quickly to people suffering or suspected of having psychotic episodes posed a risk to themselves or others.

Their Open All Hours (1998) report found that this approach, in allowing people to stay safely in the community, was as effective as hospital treatment but far less expensive and was much preferred by most people. As a result, the following year the program was recommended in the official National Service Framework for Mental Health and in 2000 became a central part of the Labor government’s NHS plan.

This promised the establishment of 335 crisis teams across England over the following three years, guaranteeing that anyone in contact with specialist mental health services could contact a team at any time, resulting in a 30% reduction in pressure on acute inpatient units forecast.

Although this optimistic prognosis never materialised, and the original model has been watered down, particularly when austerity measures hit the NHS later in the decade, crisis teams remain at the heart of NHS mental health delivery and the threat to community care has receded.

Born on the Isle of Wight, Edana was the daughter of Gloria (née Arcari) and Edward Minghella, who ran an ice cream shop, cafe and hotel in Ryde. The third of five siblings, including her brother Anthony, the film director, she attended St. Therese Presentation Convent School and Ryde High School for her A levels. The children helped out in the family business from an early age and became confident in dealing with customers of all kinds, not least with health and addiction problems that were drawn to the then decaying seaside resort.

After a false start with an acting degree at Hull University, where Anthony had also studied acting and lectured, Minghella returned to the island and worked in a nursing home before completing a four-year sandwich course at Brunel University and Bethlem Royal and Maudsley Hospitals in south London, qualified as a mental health nurse in 1982 and graduated in psychology and sociology the following year.

A fellow student on the course was comedian Jo Brand, who admits to having envied her the ease and speed with which Minghella picked up psychiatric nursing skills. The two became lifelong friends, with a shared commitment to fun and feminism, and would later even perform together. Minghella also met social work student Toby Dickinson at Brunel, who married in 1985. The union later ended in divorce.

Minghella worked as a mental health nurse, service manager, tutor and lecturer at King’s College London and earned a teaching qualification from Surrey University before coming to Sainsbury’s center in 1994. In addition to her work in crisis teams, she led influential research on the effectiveness of so-called assertive public relations, working with people who are considered difficult to reach through conventional mental health services.

In the center of Sainsbury, Minghella worked with Heather Harper, who became her partner for the rest of her life, sharing a home first in Brighton and from 2018 in the Italian region of Liguria.

In 2001, Minghella received her PhD in Mental Health Studies from Middlesex University and moved to the Audit Commission, the regulator of public spending, where she became head of the mental health department, but also a pioneering study of deficiencies in the care of disabled children and theirs children co-authored families.

As with all of her work, she was outraged and open to people poorly served by the state. But she went even further and brought children with disabilities into the research process itself through the then still innovative idea of ​​forming a reference group for the project.

After a brief secondment to the new but short-lived Health Commission, which took over some of the Audit Committee’s functions, Minghella left full-time employment to work as a consultant. She continued to produce authoritative research and analysis, developed and authored national guidelines for commissioning services for dementia, and expanded her interest to include the care and support of people with personality disorders, learning disabilities, and/or autism.

One of her most recent studies, published in 2020, was a typically succinct report for the social change agency NDTi — where she was a staffer — on the ongoing problem of people with mental illness who need hospital treatment being sent long distances from their home areas will.

The greater flexibility of the counseling work allowed Minghella to develop other interests. She co-wrote much of the second season (2005-06) of the popular ITV drama Doc Martin with her younger brother Dominic, ran writing workshops in Italy and most importantly in later life fulfilled a long-held dream of singing professionally in jazz.

Encouraged and supported by established vocalist Liane Carroll, who later went on to produce her two albums, Still on My Feet (2011) and All Or Nothing (2016), Minghella assembled an accomplished band and performed regularly at leading jazz venues London and the South East. Singing allowed her to express her effervescent personality, and her distinctive voice and fresh take on jazz standards were widely celebrated.

After moving to Italy and sharing her love for her on social media productively and contagiously, she has occasionally returned to perform in the UK. But the Covid pandemic and her cancer should limit the possibilities in recent years.

She is survived by Heather and Edward at age 101, Dominic and her sisters Gioia and Loretta.

Edana Louise Minghella, health researcher and jazz singer, born May 14, 1959; died on July 13, 2022

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