After trying for two months to get a copy of Waikato DHB’s complaint to the Solicitor General about the Coroners findings regarding our son Nicky’s death, our family has finally got its hands on a copy – and no wonder the DHB was refusing to give us a copy!
The letter is basically a bully’s attempt to force the Government’s legal agents to change the Coroner’s findings that Nicky’s death was “avoidable” and that the DHB seriously stuffed up.
Nicky drowned in the Waikato River in 2015, after being let out of the DHB’s Henry Bennett Centre on ‘unescorted leave’ despite several warnings by his family that he was at high risk of suicide if left alone. A Coroner’s Inquest in 2018 ruled that Nicky’s death was “avoidable” and that there were a series of shortcomings in the DHB’s care for him. Early this year the DHB backtracked from an apology and settlement process that they themselves initiated, in order to try and belatedly overturn the Coroner’s findings.
In the complaint letter, The DHB’s solicitor Paul White demands
- A new Coroner to be appointed
- The re-opening of the Inquest
- The verbal hearing of evidence from a fourth psychiatrist, whose evidence had been given in writing to the Inquest, and has
- Accused the Coroner of improperly communicating privately with our family
- Announced that the DHB is complaining to the ‘Judicial Conduct Commissioner’ about Coroner Bain’s conduct of the Inquest.
While we are appalled at the DHB’s aggressive attack on the Coroner and the Inquest findings, we are unfortunately not surprised. As with all their actions against us, Waikato DHB, has put their own narrow self-interest first, and the interests of their patient and his whanau last. We are not the only family to have faced this.
After over three years of waiting, the DHB had been found to have been grossly wanting in their care for our dead son – anyone who heard all of the evidence would have come to the same conclusion, and there was nothing in the Coroner’s findings that we did not already know.
The DHB obviously doesn’t like the fact that the Coroner ran a fair process and came out with an answer that didn’t show them in a good light, so now they are using taxpayer-funded legal bullying to try and change the rules after the event to get a different outcome.
We wonder why the Government – and Health Minister David Clark has had private discussions with the DHB Board Chair about this case – has not told its agency to pull its head in, suck up the Inquest result and get on with spending taxpayer money on the healthcare it is supposed to be providing. Is there a ‘yes, Minister’ situation going on here?
Often Inquests and Health & Disability Commission inquiries come out with some mild ‘could have done better’ statements, and the institution is slapped over the hand with a wet bus ticket. The fact that this Inquest came out with stronger than normal findings (but still no ground-breaking recommendations) has scared the bejeezus out of the DHB, its lawyers and its insurers, who the DHB leadership claimed has “instructed” them to complain to the Solicitor General.
That leadership never even bothered to inform or consult the rest of their Board about their actions (including the seven elected members). When they finally informed them, after the proverbial had hit the fan and they had been forced to stop their CEO recruitment process because of the shocking publicity they were receiving, the Board (with me excluded) meekly rolled over and allowed its tummy to be tickled. This part of the episode showed the essential undemocratic nature of DHB Boards, and their lack of power.
Regarding the details of the DHB complaint, it is clutching at imaginary straws, and its accusations are unfounded. There was no private contact with our family, the psychiatric evidence preferred by the Coroner was from the only independent psychiatrist there – one supplied by the Police, and the DHB has made some pretty disgusting accusations against one of the most senior Coroners in the country.
The DHB’s behaviour in this whole affair has been reprehensible, to say the least. It has devastated our family and significantly delayed our ability to find closure and have a chance to move on with our lives.
But not only that, the DHB’s actions have guaranteed that the fallout hitting it as a result of their poor care for our son will continue for months or even years longer than it needed to. It upsets us, but it’s a major PR disaster for Waikato DHB, and you have to wonder who the hell is advising them, the dysfunctional Ministry of Health, and the Government itself on this case.
People as disparate as New Zealander of the Year Mike King, NZ Maori Council Chair Matthew Tukaki and about this country’s longest-serving QC Nigel Hampton, all came out in public swinging against the DHB’s actions, with Hampton saying he wasn’t aware of such an action EVER having been taken before. As a family, we have fielded more and stronger comments on this latest ballsup by the DHB than any other aspect of our son’s case over the last four years.
The Government is about to release its plan of action following the 2018 Mental Health Inquiry (delayed by a month after the Christchurch terror attack), but you can bet that issues arising from that will now have an overlay of Nicky’s case placed on them, and our family will be sought for public comment on the Government proposals. Anything that suggests patients and whanau will be better treated by mental health services will be looked at with scepticism, as will any suggestion that DHBs are the right organisations to run this country’s mental health services.
Dave Macpherson is TDB’s mental health blogger. He became a Waikato DHB member after his son died from mental health incompetence.