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DHB apologises to Nicky Stevens' family

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 17/02/2017

The family of a mental health patient who drowned while on suicide watch have received an apology from the Waikato DHB - but they don't accept a report saying he received good care.

Representatives from the District Health Board on Friday met with the family of 21-year-old Nicky Stevens - who went missing before his body was found in the Waikato River in March, 2015 - to issue an apology and to discuss the findings of a new report into his care.

The DHB's report into the death, released on Friday, said the overall level of care Mr Stevens received as in-patient at the Henry Rongomau Bennett Centre was good.

Mr Stevens was being treated for schizophrenia and had stepped out alone for a 15-minute cigarette break - but two hours later staff rang police to say he was missing.

A police search was launched 48 hours later.

The report concluded the events around his death did not constitute serious failings by any of the staff and said it was not clear whether different actions would have changed the outcome.

"[But] there were a number of opportunities for improvements to how the unit managed clients' leave and how it involved families in their loved ones' care," it said.

It recommended tightening rules around leave, search processes for missing patients and better collaboration with families.

In a statement, Waikato DHB chief Nigel Murray apologised to the family.

"The death of Nicky Stevens is a terrible tragedy and I would like to apologise most sincerely to Nicky's family for the omissions in our leave processes while Nicky was in our care," he said.

"Our management of leave was unsatisfactory, and I also acknowledge that the family would have valued greater collaboration."

He said a lot of work had since been done to improve the service.

But before Friday's meeting, Mr Steven's father, David Macpherson, called the findings a " backside-covering report, clearly designed to justify the DHB staff and management actions, and inaction".

"We do not accept for one minute that allowing a patient, who had clearly demonstrated a high risk of suicide, to take unescorted leave on numerous occasions, against the wishes and pleas of his family and friends, suggests anything 'good' about the standard of care provide," he said in a statement.

"The family firmly believes that, had their verbal and written requests for Nicky not to be given unescorted leave been followed, and had DHB management promises been actioned, Nicky would likely be alive today."

He said the family wanted a serious acknowledgement from the DHB that there was serious problems with its mental health services and to fund the family's participation in a coroner's inquest into the death.

Last year police apologised to Mr Stevens' family for what they said was a "black comedy of errors" in their search for him, following a highly critical report by the Independent Police Conduct Authority.

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