Dave Macpherson: Waikato DHB tries to bully legal system into changing Coronial outcome in Nicky Stevens case

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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

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  • 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.

17 COMMENTS

  1. Dave I am horrified as this new labour should’ve fixed the DHB problems firstly when they got into Government.

    Labour have no teeth or backbone.

    They should be directing strict guidelines at all ‘DHB’s’ and other agencies who use aggressive behaviour and wield their aggression against the public they are meant to seve.

    This is unforgivable.

    • To Cleangreen,

      Its reprehensible that you are trying to politicize this matter for your own selfish gain……yes there are problems with the health system but this cannot be laid at the feet of one party. However in saying this, the behaviour of the Waikato DHB is repugnant in the extreme, and they need to be censured for their continual torment of this poor family.

      • To NORMAN.
        ‘ contraction darling. It’s it’s, not its.
        You’d not be the first person to allow their ignorance to trip them up when they’ve tried to run ahead of the workings of their brain. Think arthritic, ‘weight challenged’ ( fat) person running down hill in oversized ski boots? We can only imagine the out come right?
        What’s ( See what I mean? ) wrong with @ CleanGreen politicising this matter? It’s ( Again? See? ) political, after all? And c’mon? Labour are just different scales on the same snake and the AO/NZ snake’s ( Huh? See? ) a toxic, scaly little bastard indeed.
        The word ‘reprehensible’ becomes a logical fallacy when used in this matter because you’re using the word to control @ Cleangreen’s argument vector to puff yourself up. So stop it! Naughty boy! What would your mother think?
        I’ve come to understand that @ Cleangreen is a very gentle, intelligent and community minded fellow and any ‘selfish gain’ by him would herald an improvement to stuff and things for the betterment of us all. ‘The advent of ‘ The Cleangreen Betterment Barometer’! I’d buy one.

  2. Why can’t Government Departments in NZ just admit they are wrong, correct the problem admit mistakes have been made and move on.

    We have DHB’s, NZ Police, and other departments all covering their arses with highly paid lawyers being paid for by the taxpayers covering up their wrongdoings. The country and Government Departments are morally bankrupt.

    • +1 NGUNGUKAI

      If it was a ‘big business’ then the government lawyers would be handing them cash on a plate with a grovelling apology.

      When bureaucrats screw up for ordinary people they are advised by greedy morally incompetent lawyers to drag the process through the courts for years and use their power to try to derail the process (aka accusing the coroner/family to try and get a different outcome)… happening everywhere in NZ in the governments name

      … there is a disturbing culture that has developed in NZ… including it turns out that we have 25% more lawyers per capita than the UK… the reason that there is so much work of them is that justice is not swift in NZ anymore… if you are a criminal then you can use the legal process to victimise more people and drag out the processes… if you are an ordinary person then you get shunted into Kafkalike legal processes and toothless tribunals for years… the only swift action if for big business when frightened by the thought of losing and being revealed as the incompetent losers that most lawyers seem to be these days in NZ, the NZ lawyers cower and throw buckets of cash at the situation – look at Auckland council throwing $29m to one of the world’s largest recycling companies, Visy, after China stopped buying foreign waste…

      why the fuck should they do that when they refuse to compensate ordinary people for decisions or incompetence???

      It is all about power in NZ, if you are a huge company or know people in power via donations for example, NZ government just gives in aka giving NZ water away for free for bottling.

      If you are a real victim here and suffer injustice, then you may have to fight your entire life to be given a small amount of justice…

      In the Nicky Stevens case the family might have to fight a very long time to actually make the DHB take their potion of responsibility for the tragic outcome. Too late for Nicky Stevens life.

  3. Why can’t Government Departments in NZ just admit they are wrong, correct the problem admit mistakes have been made and move on.

    We have DHB’s, NZ Police, and other departments all covering their arses with highly paid lawyers being paid for by the taxpayers covering up their wrongdoings. The country and Government Departments are morally bankrupt.

  4. “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.”

    Yes, Dave, you got it.

    But you have started a fight with one mighty power, which will do all to shut you and your wife up, and to protect the medical profession, the disability professions, the sector’s service providers and so forth.

    I am afraid you may have to go for Judicial Review and taken the whole thing to the Supreme Court in the end, provided that in itself will be possible.

    • yes there is local bodies elections in october but the problem is that the the appionted menbers on the board are puppets for the MOH they can make choices that are pushed through without consulting the whole board.Most of the boards dont have any idea what is going on in DHBs.

  5. I am so sorry. This is disgraceful behaviour, and please know that many NZ’ers carry your family in their hearts and hopes.

    Needless to say, I am another who seems to have no party to vote for any more.

    Kia kaha

  6. Parker’s silence is interesting. I suspect he is playing a much more longer game.

    The whole DHB model needs an overhaul. I suspect he is waiting for this to play out before moving across the board.

    There are some very deep serious issues in the current DHB set up.

  7. There could well be more going on here than meets the eye. Is this particular DHB hiding other matters? It’s not just the DHB system that needs an overhaul, it’s the WHOLE friggin’ health system!

  8. Where is the Health and Disability Commissioner in all this? The Ombudsman?.

    It seems this atrocious abuse of bureaucratic power is precisely why we have public watchdogs and they are nowhere to be seen. This is not just a corruption of our democracy but a waste of our tax dollars.

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