Parents 'disturbed' as suicide attempts continue at hospital after daughter's death

Erica Hume with dog Hunter. This was the last picture taken of Erica before she died.
SUPPLIED

Erica Hume with dog Hunter. This was the last picture taken of Erica before she died.

The parents of a woman who died in Palmerston North Hospital's notorious mental health ward are "disturbed" at the amount of self harm and suicide attempts still taking place.

Carey and Owen Hume's daughter Erica died in the unit in 2014 in a suspected suicide and they are still aghast at what's happening on ward 21.

Figures obtained by Stuff this week revealed 144 suicide attempts and acts of self harm were recorded on the ward last year, with more than half attributed to one person.

In 2015, there were 166 instances in all, compared with only 12 in 2012.

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Carey Hume said the figures were "disturbing" and showed more work needed to be done to make the ward safer for patients.

"There is still a lot of work to be done to continually improve patient safety on the ward and one of those being getting on with the ward 21 rebuild.

"I am sure some of those attempts and/or self harms could be directly attributed to the physical environment of the ward."

Hume said the design of the ward directly contributed to Erica's death.

"It has been continually identified [that] the ward is not to standard, is an unsafe physical environment and is not conducive to patient treatment and recovery.

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"[MidCentral] DHB needs to stop dragging their heels and get on with the rebuild now."

Shaun Gray also died on the ward in a suspected suicide.

His brother Ricky Gray agreed that the environment of the ward was not safe and didn't allow supportive treatment.

The deaths of Hume and Gray had prompted a review and subsequent overhaul of the ward.

It is expected to cost up to $20 million and will take place over the next two years, according to the hospital's long-term investment plan.

MidCentral clinical services and transformation general manager Mike Grant has previously stated that the board was committed to an upgrade and it would form a major part of the hospital's overall redevelopment.

MidCentral had also committed to the mental health upgrade by incorporating it into its long-term investment plan, he said.

Carey Hume said they had been campaigning for more open and accurate reporting of events on the ward.

"Both to ensure patients got better and safer care [and] treatment plans, but also so the DHB could and would make the vital changes needed to improve patient safety on ward 21 and high needs unit."

Hume said they challenged MidCentral's reporting of suicide attempts and self harm into one category.

The DHB sometimes even categorised suicide attempts to "lesser harm" categories, she said.

"We knew it was not an accurate reflection of the seriousness of the situation for patients of mental health nor their safety on the ward.

"The DHB have in recent times been prepared to make those reporting changes and that needs to be acknowledged."

Owen Hume said he was not happy that such events were still occurring, but was pleased they were now better recorded.

"And, more importantly... DHB mental health staff are now looking at the incidents and continually trying to limit the opportunities for the self harm and attempted suicides to occur."

MidCentral mental health and addiction services director Chris Nolan said staff were now better at reporting incidents.

A compulsory training programme for all staff looked at suicide assessment. So far, about 80 per cent of staff had been through it.

The ward inpatient acute service had completely reviewed its systems and processes, including observational practices, assessment and handover of critical information.

Where to get help:

Lifeline - 0800 543 354

Depression Helpline (8 am to 12 midnight) - 0800 111 757

Healthline - 0800 611 116

Samaritans - 0800 726 666

Suicide Crisis Helpline- 0508 828 865

Youthline - 0800 376 633, free text 234 or email talk@youthline.co.nz

 - Stuff

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