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Leaked letter warns of mental health tragedy

Leaked letter warns of mental health tragedy

'An avoidable tragedy and / or significant legal claims against the [Waitemata] District Health Board' may result from failing to act on the 'chronic shortage of beds and staff within Auckland mental health services', Auckland's Mental Health Services Group has warned the Ministry of Health.

The letter from Dave Davies, General Manager of the Mental Health Services Group, to the Director of Mental Health has been leaked to Ms Bradford.

"This letter raises the most serious concerns. It shows the General Manager of the Mental Health Services Group warning the Ministry that the chronic underfunding of mental health services in the Auckland area is putting people at unnecessary risk," said Ms Bradford.

"Dave Davies is also quite correctly questioning the ethics and the legality of using police cells to detain mentally ill patients in the absence of acute beds and has called on the Ministry of Health for urgent and clear directions on what staff should do when no beds are available."

The letter goes on to state that:

"I believe that the current situation places Waitemata DHB and its employees at significant legal risk. Discharging unwell patients into the community could result in death or harm to the patients or others. Detaining them in police cells gives rise to potential claims for unlawful imprisonment under the [Bill of Rights Act]. Detaining in a general hospital setting would have practical difficulties, would place further pressure on over-crowded acute medical services and may result in high risk situations being managed by staff with insufficient psychiatric experience.

"I believe that my staff are being placed in an impossible legal and ethical position and an indication from the Ministry outlining the expected conduct in these cases is appropriate."

"This afternoon I am tabling this letter in Parliament and asking the Minister what directives have been given to Auckland DHBs in response to the grave issues raised in this letter," said Ms Bradford.

"This letter is documentary evidence that our mental health system is in complete meltdown and that patients, staff and the wider community are being placed at risk by a grossly under-resourced system," she said.

"When is this Government actually going to take significant and meaningful action?"

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