8 Apr 2015

Higher fences non-starter at units - DHB

8:54 pm on 8 April 2015

Putting up higher fences to stop mental health patients escaping will not be happening at a Hamilton unit with a history of such incidents because doctors think it would be a backwards step.

Waikato District Health Board is investigating how two men with a history of violence escaped from the Henry Rongomau Bennett Centre yesterday without anyone noticing.

But the DHB's clinical director of mental health services Reese Tapsell said higher fences made facilities more like prisons.

The two men who absconded, Benjamin Manuel and Morgan Hamiora-Smith, were today taken to Coromandel Police Station by a relative of one of the men.

Benjamin Manuel and Morgan Haimora-Smith.

Benjamin Manuel and Morgan Haimora-Smith. Photo: Supplied

They escaped from the centre on Selwyn Street on Monday night. Police had said they had a history of violence and warned the public against approaching them.

Senior Sergeant Lance Tebbutt said the two men were taken to the Coromandel Police Station at about 9.30am.

"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," Mr Tebbutt said.

"The priority now for police is getting the pair assessed and assigned the appropriate level of care required."

Waikato District Health Board chief executive Nigel Murray thanked the police for their work in apprehending the men.

"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."

The review would look at clinical practice, systems and processes and whether there were any physical problems with the centre itself. It would also consider any similarities between recent incidents in which patients had left the centre.

The Public Service Association's national secretary Erin Polaczuk said it supported the decision to launch a review.

"It raises concerns for us, we know it's a high pressure situation, we know that staff report overworking and where there's an unhealthy management culture we know mistakes can be made.

"That's why were supportive of the review and we want to union to be involved right at the terms of reference of that review."

Security inadequate

Dr Murray said the men used a kitchen utensil to break an electronic lock before scaling a two-metre high fence. They were able to get through a security door into the courtyard and used outdoor furniture to scale the fence.

Earlier today, the father of a man who drowned after leaving the same unit a month ago said Monday's incident showed inadequate its security was.

Nicholas Stevens, a patient at the centre who had a history of self-harm, drowned in the Waikato River after being released unsupervised to have a cigarette.

The 21-year-old's father, Hamilton city councillor Dave Macpherson, said basic security steps were not taken.

"They have a very slack security system and they have management that are turning a blind eye to it," Mr Macpherson said.

"They, for instance, don't have any record keeping of either patients or visitors going in and out of these wards.

"They don't actually have any formal handover procedures."

Mr Macpherson said he and his wife raised many warnings but the DHB has treated them as over-anxious or grieving parents.

Dr Murray today said he would be meeting the Mr Stevens' family as soon as possible.

"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," he said.

In 2010, a woman who escaped from the centre went home and killed her neighbour with a hammer.

Immediate review

Dr Murray said the review would include Mr Stevens' case and would be conducted under standard Health and Quality Safety Commission guidelines.

"We're not quite clear on all the circumstances of how they're able to get through a security door and climb over the fence, but it did occur. We're taking the matter very seriously.

"We will be getting a third party review down to look at our systems, our processes, our facilities."

He said the DHB had provided police with everything it knew and had made a senior psychiatrist available to them.

"The public has every right to expect we provide the best service we can for our patients."

Dr Murray earlier told Morning Report the men did not pose an imminent danger to the public but they should not be approached, and people should call the police if they saw the pair.