1 Apr 2019

Patient locked in shed: DHB's media boss tried to minimise ordeal

12:54 pm on 1 April 2019

Emails obtained by RNZ show the head of a health board media team trying to minimise an incident at its troubled mental health unit.

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Photo: Canterbury DHB

Just before Christmas a patient at Hillmorton Hospital in Christchurch went missing and was found 29 hours later in a maintenance shed on the hospital grounds, where he had been accidentally locked inside.

RNZ made an Official Information request for a copy of the inquiry into the incident and all correspondence relating to it, which included an insight into attempts to manage the story.

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Karalyn van Deursen Photo: Supplied

An email from the head of the communications team, Karalyn van Deursen, discussed the response the Canterbury District Health Board should provide to RNZ about the circumstances surrounding the man being locked in the shed.

She asked a mental health services manager if there was anything about the shed that was comfortable inside such as a chair or running water.

"If it was quite a big lined shed with a bathroom and kitchen area and lighting, might be worth mentioning, or else people will be likely to picture one of those cheap tin sheds, which wouldn't be so comfortable," she said.

In the end the statement RNZ received only talked about it being a "large shed" and made no mention of any of these creature comforts.

RNZ asked Ms van Deursen to explain why she was attempting to minimise what this man had gone through.

In a written response she said this was "the CDHB communications team's attempt to establish the facts and understand how a consumer happened to be locked in a shed and understand what sort of shed it was".

It remains unclear exactly how the man came to be locked in the shed, with the CDHB saying that releasing its report into why it happened would be a breach of his privacy.

While the correspondence that was released to RNZ was also heavily redacted, it did provide a few insights into what had happened.

One email said the police were notified and a person visited the man's home when it was noticed that he was missing from the ward, where patients were free to come and go as they pleased.

An email from the CDHB's chief of psychiatry, Dr Peri Renison, said the man reported to staff that being locked in the shed was "'quite the adventure".

"We are investigating how this happened but the sheds are open during the day and, being quite a 'magpie' he is likely to have wandered into one and perhaps fallen asleep."

Mental Health Services acting general manager Barbara Wilson noted there seemed to be "a gap with regards to the interface of safety protocols between M and E (maintenance and engineering) and the clinical areas" and said this would be looked at in the new year.

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