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Making mental health facility walls higher a backward step

Making mental health facility walls higher a backward step, says clinician

Calls to increase security at Henry Rongomau Bennett Centre in Hamilton by making the exterior walls higher and more like a prison would be a backward step for mental health in New Zealand, says Dr Rees Tapsell, Director of Clinical Services for the Mental Health and Addictions at Waikato DHB.

The calls came in the wake of Monday night’s escape from the centre by two patients over a 6m wall (see below).

Dr Tapsell’s view was supported by Dr John Crawshaw, chief advisor to the Director of Mental Health in a submission to Coroner Peter Ryan last year in relation to the death of Diane White.

Coroner Ryan, in his draft findings into Ms White’s death, subsequently not accepted into his final decision, suggested modifying the fence around the voluntary inpatient Ward 34 courtyard.

“An imposing fence would make the ward less amendable to people (both voluntary and involuntary) admitted to the ward for therapeutic purposes,” said Dr Tapsell.

Dr Tapsell said Ward 34 was an adult inpatient facility which normalised living circumstance for residents.

“The fence which the two patients scaled at Henry Rongomau Bennett Centre on Monday night was not the same fence and not the same ward,” he said.

“If we are going to build high fences around the whole facility, we will turn it into a complete forensic unit which is not its role.

“It would be going back to those institutionalised days which all research says now would not work.

“There is always going to be this struggle between rehabilitation and people wanting to abscond.

“It is a fine line one which our clinicians are experts at.

“The staff in my service are distraught at the latest turn of events. We

are looking forward to bringing Ben Manuel and Morgan Hamiora-Smith back to the centre to continue their rehabilitation.”

Waikato DHB chief executive Dr Nigel Murray paid tribute to Dr Tapsell and the work he had done over many years for mental health in the region.

“Under his leadership thousands of patients have had excellent interaction with mental health services and are leading worthwhile lives in their communities.

“The tragic case of Nicky Stevens is one he and his staff are aware of and are co-operating with the two reviews under way.

“The external review I have asked for is into the service itself. Is the Henry Rongomau Bennett Centre, which is now more than 20 years old, fit for purpose? These are questions I want to know.”

Meanwhile Dr Crawshaw today said he had spoken with the Waikato District Health Board around the recent absconding of two patients, and the death of a voluntary inpatient who had been receiving mental health services.

“The DHB has advised it has separate inquiries underway into each of these two unrelated incidents.

“I expect to be involved in subsequently reviewing the outcome of these inquiries.

“The vast majority of mental health patients are safely treated in the community. There are a small group who require treatment in secure settings.

“Mental health services in New Zealand are based on the principle of using the least restrictive care possible.

“That means striking a balance between the appropriate level of security on one hand, and the rehabilitation and treatment of patients on the other hand,” said Dr Crawshaw.


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