Families plan lawsuit over disabled abuse

KIRSTY JOHNSTON
Last updated 05:00 21/07/2013

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Families of disabled patients abused in state care are planning court action against the Ministry of Health in an attempt to hold it accountable for their loved ones' suffering.

At least four relatives of those mistreated in taxpayer-funded residential homes have been working with lawyers to take a group claim against the Government.

Wellington abuse-case specialist Cooper Law believes the ministry has a case to answer.

A disability advocate says the families are terrified the case may result in further mistreatment of their relatives, and hope others may also come forward so they can have "safety in numbers".

The Sunday Star-Times revealed widespread abuse at residential homes for the intellectually disabled earlier this year, beginning with an article about a boy left alone to eat grass in a paddock.

The facility he lived at, Parklands, was closed last year to ensure patients did not suffer further mistreatment, such as physical and verbal abuse, malnutrition and neglect.

Serious abuse at the country's biggest kaupapa Maori provider, Te Roopu Taurima O Manukau Trust, also required ministry intervention after an investigation found extensive mistreatment of clients.

A third case, involving an autistic teenager who had his testicle ruptured at a home run by Spectrum Care, which no one was held accountable for, was revealed last month.

Minister of Health Tony Ryall ordered a review of the auditing, monitoring and accreditation of disabled care residences after the coverage.

However, some of those in the sector, including Disability Rights Commissioner Paul Gibson, have said that does not go far enough, and have called for disability services to be removed from Ministry of Health control.

The families of those who lived in the facilities agree the review is unlikely to provide redress for what their relatives suffered and want the ministry investigated via a legal process.

"This is the only way that you can get any justice," said advocate Colin Burgering from the Justice Action Group, who advises some of the families involved. "It's not about the money, it's about holding the ministry accountable."

Katharine Ross, from Cooper Law, was confident the case stacked up and there was potential to look at other residences.

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