A man has been left brain-damaged by a car crash after a hospital pumped him full of morphine then let him drive home.
Kerry Anthony, 62, had to be put into an induced coma after passing out behind the wheel and crashing in the November accident, after being discharged from Wairau Hospital in Blenheim.
Nelson Marlborough District Health Board is investigating, and treating the incident as a serious adverse event.
But Mr Anthony and wife Jackie say their lives have been ruined and they were unable to get even an apology from the hospital.
"They never should have let him go - frankly, letting someone drive with morphine in their system is the same as giving them cannabis or alcohol," Mrs Anthony said.
"They never offered to get a cab for him, or put him in an ambulance, or insist he stay overnight. He could have had delayed concussion.
"They are just totally irresponsible and they are 100 per cent responsible for what happened."
The New Zealand Transport Agency's guidelines on fitness to drive state: "Medical practitioners may wish to advise patients in writing, as well as verbally, that they are unfit to drive and when they can expect the situation to be reviewed."
Hoteliers, Mr and Mrs Anthony ran a bed and breakfast from their home in the Marlborough Sounds before moving to Australia's Sunshine Coast for a lifestyle change.
In November last year, Mr Anthony returned to New Zealand to clean their house and get it ready for sale.
A ladder collapsed under him and he fell four metres on to a clay floor, knocking himself out. After coming to and resting for a while, he drove himself about 70 kilometres to Wairau Hospital.
At the hospital he was attached to an IV drip and given morphine, his broken upper arm was put in a collar and cuff, and he was then given more painkillers in tablet form, Mrs Anthony said.
Hospital staff asked if he wanted to stay overnight, but he said he would be more comfortable in his own bed.
They asked what kind of car he had, and when he said it was an automatic, told him: "You should be able to drive one-handed."
By then it was 11pm. About 10 minutes from the hospital, Mr Anthony passed out.
Motorists described him as approaching the Wairau River bridge erratically before veering off the road and down two steep banks into bushes.
He was flown by helicopter to Wellington Hospital with a broken back and neck, broken ribs and head injuries.
He spent three days in an induced coma and two weeks in the neurological ward before being flown to Brisbane Hospital.
He now has short-term memory loss from bruising to his frontal lobes, restricted movement, and suffers anxiety and depression.
"Every day he asks me the same question 10 times, from 'What day is it?' to 'Where are the cats?' He couldn't even remember how to use a TV remote," Mrs Anthony said.
And because he lives in Australia, he does not qualify for ACC cover. The couple are now living off their meagre savings, as Mrs Anthony stays at home to care for her husband, who cannot work for at least two years.Their house in Marlborough is still on the market.
Mrs Anthony is frustrated that the hospital has still not completed its investigation, which she had to push for, and that there seems to be no form of redress.
After inquiries from The Dominion Post yesterday, the health board issued a statement from associate chief medical officer David Bond.
"We apologise to Mr and Mrs Anthony and take responsibility for any lack of care that contributed to Mr Anthony's accident in November 2013.
"[The DHB] also apologises for the suffering and the stressful effect that this has had on the whole family. The findings [of the investigation] will be with Mrs Anthony as soon as possible."
Dr Bond said a wide-ranging investigation had involved all clinical staff involved in Mr Anthony's care.
It had been delayed over Christmas, because people had been away.
Recommendations included staff training on NZTA guidelines, and making more calls to the "Safe Haven" group of Blenheim residents who offer free accommodation for patients of Wairau Hospital.
Mrs Anthony said she was told by the hospital's director of nursing and midwifery, Robyn Henderson, that a nurse had been stood down as a result of the investigation.
ACC lawyer John Miller said that, while the system was designed to protect against tourists taking advantage of it, there was an argument for New Zealanders who had moved overseas after paying years of taxes and levies to receive compensation.
- The Dominion Post
Should Wellington have a new convention centre?Related story: $100m Hilton project back to drawing board