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Govt must take responsibility for mental health

31 October 2002
Govt must take responsibility for mental health meltdown

Green Mental Health Spokesperson Sue Bradford today said a damning report into the mental health services at Southland DHB was yet another reminder of the appalling state of New Zealand's mental health system.

The Health and Disability Commissioner investigated Southland District Health Board's mental health services between February and March 2001 after a paranoid schizophrenic killed his mother just 24 hours after being released from the hospital, despite warnings from the young man's father that he was dangerous.

"This report has identified the most serious failings in our mental health system and, while any disciplinary action has yet to be decided, it is only right that the doctors and nurses be required to apologise to the Burton family for this terrible tragedy," said Ms Bradford.

Ms Bradford said it was crucial that this tragedy and this report were not viewed in isolation.

"Incidents like this are just symptoms of the chronic rundown and under-funding of the entire national mental health system and, while there is obviously the most serious case for Southland DHB to answer in this specific case, Government must be held responsible for the ongoing inability of the mental health system to provide adequate care for those that need it.

"In particular I welcome the Commissioner's findings that both individual providers and DHBs must take responsibility for the health and welfare of people with mental illness who are in their care," she said.

Ms Bradford said that for too long when tragedies like this occur in the mental health sector the focus has been on covering tracks and avoiding responsibility rather than accepting that there is an obligation to people with mental illness equal to that provided to those with physical injuries or sickness.

"I sincerely hope that the results of the inquiry will be immediately reflected in the performance and processes of the Southland DHB and also in all DHBs including those in the Auckland, BOP and Northland areas where staff and bed shortages are even more acute than in the south. "Successive governments have been using workforce shortages in the mental health sector as an excuse for tragedies like this for too many years now and it's way past time that Government accepted that part of the reason we have staff shortages is due to poor pay and conditions."

Ms Bradford said the Burton case highlighted the desperation felt by the families of mentally ill people when they know their family member is sick and needs help, but the system won't listen to them. "Families like the Burtons and many others who have lost members through homicide or suicide know a lot of the answers to the ongoing crisis in our mental health system. Currently there is a huge problem in that neither the health professionals nor governments will listen to them, let alone act."


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