1 Nov 2014

Debate over voluntary patient rights

8:08 am on 1 November 2014

A group representing mental health consumers says a call by a coroner to give clinicians more power to detain people against their will would be a step in the wrong direction.

beehive and parliament buildings

Coroner Peter Ryan has recommended reform so voluntary patients can be detained if they suddenly present a risk. Photo: PHOTO NZ

The coroner has said the death of Diane White, who was killed by her neighbour after absconding from a Hamilton mental health facility, has highlighted a gap in the law.

Christine Morris was convicted in April 2012 in the High Court at Hamilton of murdering Mrs White and is serving a life sentence.

In a report released yesterday, Coroner Peter Ryan recommended the Mental Health Act be amended to give staff the power to detain voluntary patients if they suddenly present a risk.

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Kieran Moorhead (Communications and Community Development Manager), Changing Minds

Kieran Moorhead Photo: CHANGING MINDS

However, Kieran Moorhead from the group Changing Minds said this would breach patient rights.

He said Health Ministry figures showed the number of people detained under the Mental Health Act has incrased from about 450 in 2011 to about 630 in 2013.

Mr Moorhead said the Mental Health Act had been criticised by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities for its emphasis on coercion.

John van der Heyden, from the group Supporting Families in Mental Illness, said it was important to strike a balance between the therapeutic needs of the individual and safety.

'A regrettable death'

Mrs White's partner of 17 years, Gary Chadderton, said he was still bitter that staff did not stop Morris leaving the unit and police failed to respond adequately.

Mr Chadderton said five years on, he still thinks about Mrs White's death every hour of every day.

The Ministry of Health said it would be "carefully considering the recommendations of the Coroner".

Its Director of Mental Health, Dr John Crawshaw, said Mrs White's was "a regrettable death".

"As is clear from the Coroner's finding, the Director of Mental Health has been in close communication with the district health board around the circumstances surrounding this death."

The Waikato District Health Board (DHB)'s Director of Clinical Services for Mental Health and Addictions, Dr Rees Tapsell, said the DHB commissioned a review into the care and treatment of Morris in the period leading up to the murder of Mrs White that showed all staff had acted in a humane and professional way.

"Whilst it is easy to see a number of things that we would have done differently, had we known then what we know now, no one could reasonably have predicted that Ms Morris would act in the way that she did," Dr Tapsell said.

"Our thoughts remain with Diane White's family and we offer our sincere condolences to them."

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