This shocking story was in the New Zealand herald today. Highlighting the shocking lack of rights that people with mental illness are sometimes faced with when in care.
4:00AM Thursday Nov 05, 2009
By Patrick Gower
The Ombudsmen’s report claims several mentally ill patients have been treated inhumanely, including one who was restrained and kept in seclusion for almost six years.
A mentally ill patient held in restraints and kept in solitary confinement for almost six years is one of several disturbing cases of possibly inhumane treatment the country’s Ombudsmen have uncovered in New Zealand detention facilities.
The public watchdogs found the patient in virtually constant “seclusion” – solitary confinement in a bare room – at the mental health unit of a district health board.
Chief Ombudsman Beverley Wakem would not name the board last night, but said it claimed the detention and use of restraints was required because the patient was likely to attack other patients and staff.
But Ms Wakem said that after her office became involved, the patient was moved to a more suitable facility.
“Why nobody thought to look at that and make that assessment before we arrived on the scene is a cause for concern,” she told the Herald.
The patient was one example of “potential cruel and inhumane treatment” the Ombudsmen identified during the first nationwide investigation of detention facilities, done over the past year.
The investigation also found a young intellectually disabled patient being kept in unwarranted and lengthy “seclusion”, and another mental health patient who had been kept without any consent for years.
Ms Wakem said the health boards responsible took action immediately.
But the Health Ministry’s director of mental health, Dr David Chaplow, said last night that he knew nothing of the cases and would be ordering an urgent report.
Dr Chaplow said he knew of one patient with a mixture of autism, intellectual disability and mental illness that was particularly challenging, “but I have never known a case in seclusion for six years”.
The annual mental health services report says 1395 patients were secluded for between two minutes and 365 days in the past year.
Dr Chaplow said there was now a “sinking lid” policy on seclusion, but it had a place in mental health care.
The Ombudsmen’s investigation covered prisons, mental health units, immigration detention centres, court cells and youth facilities.
It was detailed in the Ombudsmen’s annual report, issued yesterday, and also raised concerns that prisoners were not given electric fans to control cell ventilation or temperature.
It said in excessive temperatures the lack of fans could amount to “cruel” or “inhumane” treatment.
It noted this was more likely with increasing lock-down times and double-bunking as the prison population reached crisis point.
Corrections prison services manager Karen Urwin said the department had looked into buying fans for every prison cell, but had decided it was not an effective use of taxpayers’ money as extreme heat waves were rare in New Zealand.
* Case studies
CASE 1: Mental health patient in “virtually constant restraint and seclusion for nearly six years”.
CASE 2: Young intellectually disabled patient kept in “seclusion” for lengthy period.
CASE 3: Mental health patient “treated for some years without any apparent consent of any kind