22 Jan 2010

Patient's murder charge prompts health board probe

6:45 am on 22 January 2010

Waikato District Health Board is investigating a case in which a patient left a mental health unit and allegedly killed a woman hours later.

The patient, a 40-year-old woman who has name suppression, left the Henry Bennett Centre in Hamilton on Tuesday morning. She is charged with murdering Diane White, 53, in her home in Blackburn St, Frankton, later that day.

The Waikato Times says the victim's neighbour called the board's mental health unit twice with concerns about the accused. Staff at the unit told her to contact police.

The health board says its mental health service acted appropriately following the woman's departure from the facility, where she had admitted herself voluntarily. The board says it will look into all aspects of the case.

Police have confirmed they received three 111 calls about the woman over an 80-minute period. Officers were dispatched and they went to the Blackburn St house a second time, where they found Ms White's body.

The Independent Police Conduct Authority is looking into how officers handled the calls.

Officers were dispatched when the first call was received, and police chiefs say they are satisfied that correct procedures were followed.

A senior investigator is reviewing the police response and the matter has been referred to the Independent Police Conduct Authority.

The chairman of the Mental Health Commission, Dr Peter McGeorge, says says there's little that can be done to prevent patients leaving mental health units when they are there of their own accord.

"A lot of the inpatient units around New Zealand are open and that's been a concern for some people, particularly those that are more of a risk to themselves or others," he says. "But there are parts of inpatient units that are locked for people that are deemed to be more of a risk."

The 40-year-old woman appeared in Hamilton District Court on Wednesday and was remanded in custody for a psychiatric report. She will reappear in court next month.