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Making mental health facility walls higher a backward step, says clinician

Rees Tapsell

Rees Tapsell

Calls to increase security at Henry Rongomau Bennett Centre in Hamilton by making the exterior walls higher and more like a prison would be a backward step for mental health in New Zealand, says Dr Rees Tapsell, Director of Clinical Services for the Mental Health and Addictions at Waikato DHB.

The calls came in the wake of Monday night’s escape from the centre by two patients over a 6m wall (see below).

Dr Tapsell’s view was supported by Dr John Crawshaw, chief advisor to the Director of Mental Health in a submission to Coroner Peter Ryan last year in relation to the death of Diane White. Coroner Ryan, in his draft findings into Ms White’s death, subsequently not accepted into his final decision, suggested modifying the fence around the voluntary inpatient Ward 34 courtyard.

“An imposing fence would make the ward less amendable to people (both voluntary and involuntary) admitted to the ward for therapeutic purposes,” said Dr Tapsell.

Dr Tapsell said Ward 34 was an adult inpatient facility which normalised living circumstance for residents.

“The fence which the two patients scaled at Henry Rongomau Bennett Centre on Monday night was not the same fence and not the same ward,” he said.

“If we are going to build high fences around the whole facility, we will turn it into a complete forensic unit which is not its role.

“It would be going back to those institutionalised days which all research says now would not work.

“There is always going to be this struggle between rehabilitation and people wanting to abscond.

“It is a fine line one which our clinicians are experts at.

“The staff in my service are distraught at the latest turn of events. We

are looking forward to bringing Ben Manuel and Morgan Hamiora-Smith back to the centre to continue their rehabilitation.”

CEO Dr Nigel Murray

CEO Dr Nigel Murray

Waikato DHB chief executive Dr Nigel Murray paid tribute to Dr Tapsell and the work he had done over many years for mental health in the region.

“Under his leadership thousands of patients have had excellent interaction with mental health services and are leading worthwhile lives in their communities.

“The tragic case of Nicky Stevens is one he and his staff are aware of and are co-operating with the two reviews under way.

“The external review I have asked for is into the service itself. Is the Henry Rongomau Bennett Centre, which is now more than 20 years old, fit for purpose? These are questions I want to know.”

Meanwhile Dr Crawshaw today said he had spoken with the Waikato District Health Board around the recent absconding of two patients, and the death of a voluntary inpatient who had been receiving mental health services.

“The DHB has advised it has separate inquiries underway into each of these two unrelated incidents.

“I expect to be involved in subsequently reviewing the outcome of these inquiries.

“The vast majority of mental health patients are safely treated in the community. There are a small group who require treatment in secure settings.

“Mental health services in New Zealand are based on the principle of using the least restrictive care possible.

“That means striking a balance between the appropriate level of security on one hand, and the rehabilitation and treatment of patients on the other hand,” said Dr Crawshaw.


Waikato DHB thanks Police for apprehending patients

Waikato District Health Board chief executive Dr Nigel Murray has thanked the NZ Police for their work in apprehending the two patients who escaped from Henry Rongomau Bennett Centre in Hamilton earlier this week (see earlier release below and police release today).

“We are looking forward to getting them back so that we can continue their rehabilitative care,” he said. “In the interim, I am thinking very carefully about the terms of reference for the external review I signalled I would undertake on our mental health services.”

This independent review will look at clinical practice, systems and processes and if there are any physical issues with the Centre itself.  It will also consider any similarities between recent incidents in which patients have left the Centre.

“With regard to Nicholas Stevens’ tragic death, I again extend my deepest condolences to his family. I want to be totally transparent. I will be meeting with Nicholas’ family when I have the information I need. The meeting will occur as soon as practicable.

“I can confirm we have included in the review of Nicholas’ death an independent psychiatrist and mental health nursing leader.  The review will be conducted under standard Health and Quality Safety Commission guidelines.  The matter has also been referred to the Coroner.”


AWOL patients recovered

8 April 2015

Waikato Police are thanking members of the public for their assistance following the surrender of two men AWOL from a Hamilton mental health care facility to Coromandel Police this morning.

Shift Manager, Senior Sergeant Lance Tebbutt, of the Waikato District Command Centre said the two men were brought in to the Coromandel Police Station by a relative about 9.30am.

“The 28 and 21-year-olds had been on the run since absconding from the facility on Hamilton’s Selwyn St about 9pm on Monday.

“As a result of appeals for sightings of the pair Police received several calls from members of the public and they were identified as being in the Kennedy Bay area. The priority now for Police is getting the pair assessed and assigned the appropriate level of care required.”


Waikato DHB launches external review

7 April 2015

Waikato DHB chief executive Dr Nigel Murray says two patients absconded from a mental health medium security rehabilitation unit in the Henry Rongomau Bennett Centre soon after 8.40pm yesterday. See release below They were able to get through a security door into the courtyard and used outdoor furniture to scale the external fence.

They were seen running down Selwyn Street by a member of the public who contacted the police.

About the same time staff in the unit reported the two patients as missing and also alerted the Police.

“We appeal to the public for information and urge anyone who knows where these two are to contact the police. We have provided the police with everything we know and made a senior psychiatrist available to them.

“I intend to launch an external review of our service immediately. The public has every right to expect we provide the best service we can for our patients.”

Police warn AWOL pair should not be approached

7 April 2015

Waikato Police are seeking the public’s help in locating two men who absconded from a mental health facility and warn they should not be approached.

Senior Sergeant Andrew O’Reilly of the Waikato District Command Centre said 28-year-old Benjamin Thomas MANUEL and 21-year-old Morgan HAMIORA-SMITH were reported absent without leave from the Henry Rongomau Bennett Centre on Selwyn St about 9.23pm yesterday.

“Both men were being treated as in-patients under mental health legislation before they absconded. “The pair were reported to Police as having climbed a fence at the centre and fled and were seen walking down Selwyn and then Alison Streets. Both had red school backpack bags on their backs.” Mr O’Reilly said reports from members of the public who encountered them suggested the pair intended to hitch-hike out of the City overnight, possibly heading to Thames.

MANUEL is described as a male Maori of medium build about 172cm tall while HAMIORA-SMITH is a male Maori of medium build and about 180cm tall.

“Both are known to have contacts throughout the Waikato and Bay of Plenty with MANUEL having links to the Whakatäne, Kawerau and Tokoroa areas. “Advice from medical staff suggest neither man poses specific risk to the public however both have a history of violence and Police advise the public not to approach them but to ring 111 if they are seen.”


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