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Government Heeds Warnings Too Late

Government Heeds Warnings Too Late

Tuesday 10 Jun 2003 Heather Roy Press Releases -- Health

ACT New Zealand Health Spokesman Heather Roy today said it was disgraceful that a psychiatric patient was mauled by a tiger before warnings of acute mental health bed shortages were heeded, after a report cited overcrowding as a factor in the incident.

"When Kenepuru acute mental health ward Te Whare O Rangatuhi was closed in 2002, I was criticised for saying there was a lack of beds - and that the remaining psychiatric ward at Wellington Hospital was overcrowded with patients regularly sleeping on mattresses on the hospital floors. Yesterday's independent report confirms everything I said," Mrs Roy said.

"I warned that the closure was a tragedy waiting to happen, but my calls for Health Minister Annette King to intervene fell on deaf ears. I raised the matter in Parliament, and she was dismissive. She avoided responsibility, as usual, and would not guarantee that patients wouldn't continue to sleep on hospital floors.

"The Government continues to push for politically correct community care - yet it refuses to accept responsibility for patients slipping through the cracks of a fragmented mental health system that is failing the truly vulnerable.

"It is unrealistic to expect staff to keep track of every patient in an overcrowded ward, where patients are forced to sleep in interview rooms. This is not isolated to Wellington, it is also occurring in other parts of the country.

"Now, to combat frequent overcrowding at the unit, Capital and Coast DHB is commissioning six new beds for committed patients. Some of these may be at Kenepuru - and one wonders why beds were closed last year, only to be re-opened this year. Patients and staff have been put under severe strain, and it is not until disaster strikes that action is taken. Until the lack of beds and staff shortages are taken seriously, nothing will change.

"The Minister was critical of this approach when she was in opposition. She said `we have a cycle of tragedy - followed by investigations - then recommendations which appear to make no difference - then frustration - followed by rounds of people blaming each other - and finally a further tragedy to kick-start it all off again'. She also said `This is no way to run a health system. The Minister [Bill English] must make good his statement that mental health is a priority'.

"Ms King has had four years to do something about mental health. Perhaps she could enlighten the public how she has improved anything for the mentally unwell," Mrs Roy said.


For more information visit ACT online at http://www.act.org.nz or contact the ACT Parliamentary Office at act@parliament.govt.nz.

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