Suicides expose failings in mental health service

JO MOIR AND ELLE HUNT
Last updated 05:00 15/02/2013

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A young woman killed herself after being refused help by mental health workers who said their shift was nearly over.

Coroner Ian Smith criticised the failings of mental health services - such as delays in assessing patients, communication breakdowns, and poor documenting and sharing of information - in his reports released yesterday on three suicides in the Wellington region between November 2008 and August 2010.

Leigh McGuinness, 27, committed suicide at a respite-care centre in Brooklyn in November 2008, the morning after her mother sought help for her from police.

The officer who answered the phone asked two members of Capital & Coast District Health Board's crisis assessment and treatment team if they could help, but was told they could not because they were due to finish work in 15 minutes.

Mrs McGuinness took her daughter to Wellington Hospital's emergency department, and she was transferred to the respite-care centre. She was found dead there the next morning.

Mr Smith agreed with most of the 13 recommendations her family made in their submission to her inquest, including that mental health professionals should be prepared to work overtime or call in backup.

Capital & Coast clinical director Alison Masters said that, since Ms McGuinness' death, team processes had been reviewed and a procedure manual introduced.

In all of his reports, Mr Smith identified failings and recommended procedural changes to the DHB's mental health services.

He said the death of Graham Webber, 59, in April 2009, showed a breakdown of communication between the mental health service, patients and patients' families.

In his findings on the suicide of Porirua resident Gwenyth Kingsbury, 48, in August 2010, he said possible delays with patient care needed to be eliminated.

Mr Smith accepted the team had already made significant changes but would keep a close eye on the lack of communication.

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- The Dominion Post

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