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Health Commissioner’s 1st responsibility: Patient

The Alliance is astounded that the Health and Disability Commissioner has reacted more strongly to pressure over her failure to expedite patient complaints than to failures in patient care.

Commissioner Stent has said publicly that the Alliance should be ‘hung drawn and quartered’ for criticising the Commissioner’s ‘investigations’ of several high profile failures in medical care. Ms Stent’s salvo follows Alliance criticism yesterday of her ‘investigation’ of the Linda Astor case.

“Linda Astor administered electric shock treatment to patients. She was probably not a doctor, certainly not a psychiatrist and she wasn’t qualified to authorise the treatment. If that case cannot be investigated by the Commissioner, then the way the Commissioner’s office is run is very seriously flawed,” Alliance health spokesperson Phillida Bunkle said.

The Alliance laid a complaint with the Commissioner in September 1997. On 30 June 1999, nearly two years after the complaint was laid, the Commissioner has decided not to take further action and suggested the police should be called in to handle the complaint.

“Not good enough,” says Phillida Bunkle. “The Commissioner has reacted far more strongly to criticism over the way she has handled the complaint than she has reacted to the mistreatment of patients.

“Ms Stent claims she conducted a ‘thorough inquiry’. Her thorough inquiry consisted of letters to Capital Coast Health, Hutt Valley Health and Nelson-Marlborough Health. She never communicated with the patients or families of patients who were mistreated.

“The mother of one of the patients ‘treated’ by Dr Astor says her son’s life has been ruined by electric shock treatment. You know everything you need to know about the Health Commissioner from the fact that she says the Alliance should be hung, drawn and quartered while the victim of this barbaric treatment is left with nothing.

“The Health Commissioner’s key role is to defend patients’ rights. She made no attempt at all to communicate with the patients in the Astor case to find out their side of the story, the nature or severity of their mistreatment, or its consequences. All she did was attempt to communicate with the providers, and when she failed to find the doctor she let her off the hook without even letting the patients know she had done so. This is what Ms Stent calls a ‘thorough investigation.’ If she believed there were grounds for a criminal charge, she should have taken responsibility for laying the complaint with the police herself.

“No one is defending patients’ rights and no one is taking responsibility for an unqualified ‘doctor’ giving unauthorised treatment.

“In addition to the Astor case, Ms Stent has had over two years to investigate amputee services in Auckland and still hasn’t reported. At the end of her first year, more than 50% of complaints to her office were unresolved. At Parliament’s Health Select Committee today she couldn’t say how many cases had waited more than two years for resolution. Criticism of her performance is valid and it is unacceptable for Ms Stent to respond to critics more strongly than she has responded to the mistreatment,” Phillida Bunkle said.

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