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Minister Must Heed Mental Health Warnings

Minister Must Heed Mental Health Warnings

ACT New Zealand Health Spokesman Heather Roy today said that health professional and union delegate Jim Ferguson's comments - that the mental health situation at Waitemata DHB's new clinic is `beyond crisis' and `dangerous to patients, staff and the community' - should be heeded before disaster strikes.

"Only Health Minister Annette King has the power to take the initiative on this issue. Instead, however, she avoids responsibility by passing her problems over to District Health Boards - when disaster strikes, the last mental health worker to see the patient is blamed," Mrs Roy said.

"The Taharoto Unit is currently worse off than most. With a 20 percent staff turnover, large numbers of staff vacancies and few experienced workers, it is little wonder that patients are falling through the cracks of a fragmented system. Waitemata DHB has already been in the limelight with the case of psychiatric patient Lachlan Jones, who murdered his flatmate before committing suicide.

"Blame for such incidents is being placed upon health workers at the coalface. With three members of Southland Hospital's psychiatric staff currently facing disciplinary action following the Burton Report, mental health workers throughout the country are feeling justifiably nervous.

"It is completely unfair to expect mental health workers to cope in these circumstances, and equally unfair to subject patients to a system that provides unsafe care. Skilled staff are attracted overseas by better working conditions and better pay. We are training our health professionals for export.

"It is not just Auckland's mental health situation that is desperate, it is the entire country's. Our failing system only manages to struggle on through the dedication of its staff. Until the Minister takes responsibility for this, patients will continue to be cared for in police cells, while others slip through the cracks into tragedy," Mrs Roy said.

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