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Govt addresses issues in Ben Chandra-Hills report

23 June 2000 Media Statement

Government addresses issues in Ben Chandra-Hills report

An independent review into the care of Ben Chandra-Hills found no breaches of
professional or ethical behaviour, but says gaps in services and poor inter-agency communication affected the quality of his care.

The Director General of Health commissioned Professor David Holdaway, a retired professor of paediatric medicine from Otago School of Medicine, to review Ben's treatment, following the nine year-old Auckland boy's death in February this year.

Releasing the report's findings today, Minister of Disability Issues Ruth Dyson expressed sympathy for Ben's family.

"Ben's mother, Jane, battled hard for her son throughout his short life. I am determined that we will learn some lessons from this case, so that we can prevent the deaths of more children."

Ben had severe epilepsy, developmental delay, behavioural difficulties and attention deficit disorder, asthma, eczema and recurrent otitis media. He died after an epileptic seizure.

Professor Holdaway was asked to look at the health and disability services provided for Ben and his mother after allegations that the system had not worked well for them.

He concluded that the health and disability services offered were of a high standard. However, lack of local facilities and staffing limited their effectiveness.

Ms Dyson acknowledged the professionalism of the people working on Ben's behalf, but said their efforts were hampered by gaps in services.

"A decade of health reforms, driven by competition and dollar signs, has failed to look after our most vulnerable citizens. There are now appalling gaps in services for people with disabilities, especially in residential and respite care."

Ms Dyson said last week's Budget meant the shortfall could begin to be addressed.
"We are putting an extra $40 million over the next four years into disability support services - respite care, residential care and home support. About a third of that money will go to the Auckland area. These are all services which would have helped Ben's family."

Ms Dyson said Ben's case was very complex and more than 100 people were involved over a seven-year period. However, no one took overall responsibility for the case and communication between different government agencies was not good enough.

"It is disappointing that Professor Holdaway's report once again identifies a breakdown in communication between different government agencies. Cooperation doesn't cost anything. Yet it seems to be something agencies have been incapable of doing.

"Good communication is not only critical to the quality of services we provide, but it also lowers the frustration felt by families and the time involved in dealing with complex issues."

Ms Dyson said her appointment as Minister for Disability Issues, and the establishment of a disability directorate in the Ministry of Health, were clear messages from government that people with disabilities need an across-the-board response to their concerns.

She said health and social service agencies are developing an inter-sectoral strategy to address inter-agency communication and other issues for children with severe mental health, disability and behavioural problems. The agencies will report to the Ad Hoc Mental Health Committee in late July.

Ms Dyson said Professor Holdaway's findings about barriers facing families and caregivers of people with multiple, complex needs will also be considered in the development of
the New Zealand Disability Strategy. The strategy, which is currently being drafted, aims to address structural barriers which prevent people with disabilities participating fully in society.

Attachment: A 4-page summary of Professor Holdaway's report is attached. A copy of the full report is available on request.


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