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MOH response to H and DC report into Burton case

Ministry of Health response to H and DC report into Burton case

The Ministry of Health says the Health and Disability Commissioner's report into the mental health care given to Mark Burton is a sad conclusion to a tragic story.

"Although the deficiencies in the care given to Mr Burton have been well canvassed in previous inquiries it is still enormously saddening to read the Commissioner's report and see so starkly the series of lapses and misjudgements which contributed to the tragic death of Paddy Burton," Ministry spokeswoman Dr Janice Wilson said.

"Once again our thoughts must be with the Burton family. I hope in some way the Commissioner's report will help them come to terms with the awfulness of their loss."

Dr Wilson, Deputy Director-General, Mental Health, said she was also mindful of the sobering reading the report would make for mental health services staff.

"The very nature of mental illness means that you will have tragedies. But what this report makes clear is that in this case there were a number of issues of competence amongst staff in the mental health services in Southland at the time. Those who showed poor judgement will have to live with that for the rest of their lives."

"Higher standards are demanded and expected of mental health care. Those individuals who in the Commissioner's view did not meet those standards have been referred to the Director of Proceedings and may well face disciplinary action.

"I note, however, that the Southland board has already anticipated and implemented a number of the recommendations relating to professional competence and judgement."

"The Ministry accepts the Commissioner's recommendations and is setting in place the audit process. In the first instance the Director of Mental Health and the Chief Nursing Advisor will spend time with the Southland District Health Board next month so we can assess the changes already made, and assist them with planning to meet the rest of the recommendations."

"Forming the regional alliances recommended is clearly one of the first priorities."

Dr Wilson said the report crystallised many of the infrastructure issues facing not only Southland but all smaller, provincial District Health Boards.

"It's well-known that there aren't enough good mental health professionals to go around - both within New Zealand and internationally. Given this it's always going to be difficult to staff all mental health services to the standard we would like. This then poses questions about how we configure our services - is it realistic to expect to provide as good a mental health service in Southland as, say, in larger centres? Or should we only offer inpatient services in larger centres, with referrals from smaller boards? If we do that, how do we facilitate the family involvement which we know is so crucial in mental health services? What will the effect of such a change be on existing services?"

"There are no ready or easy answers. But this report does give us a good basis for thinking about and discussing some of these bigger issues."

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