For the third time in less than a year, New Zealand’s Chief Ombudsman has highlighted the overrepresentation of Māori being held in mental health unit seclusion.
In May last year, Ombudsman Peter Boshier inspected Ward 21, an acute mental health inpatient unit at Palmerston North Hospital.
In his report published today, Mr Boshier highlighted a number of troubling issues at the unit, including the overrepresentation of Māori patients in seclusion events.
“Of the 20 seclusion events at Ward 21 reported in the six months to 30 April 2021, 14 of them involved Māori patients. That amounts to 70%, despite only 38% of patients on the ward at the time identifying as Māori,” Mr Boshier says.
“The Ministry of Health needs to look at why this is occurring. Only last week I highlighted the same issue in a report on a mental health unit in Bay of Plenty, and last year the issue also arose at another facility in Whanganui.
“It is my view that seclusion – putting someone alone in a space from which they cannot freely leave – has little therapeutic value and as a practice, should be declining. Instead, it appears, at least for Māori, to be increasing. I have recommended that all necessary steps are taken to reduce the disproportionate seclusion of Māori at Ward 21.”
Mr Boshier has also recommended MidCentral District Heath Board and the Ministry of Heath urgently progress work on the planned rebuild of the facility and in line with best practice.
“The conditions at this facility are what I would describe as poor, for reasons that include being at capacity or over-capacity at times and a dreary physical environment, particularly in the crowded and noisy high needs unit,” he said.
“The DHB has accepted the ward conditions are no longer fit for purpose, and staff said they hoped the new building would lead to a significant improvements for patients.
“I am encouraged that the DHB has accepted all 17 of the recommendations I made in my report and I will look forward to seeing these fulfilled in the near future.”