Son paid for negligence with his life, say parents

ADAM DUDDING
Last updated 05:00 01/12/2013

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The parents a man killed by his schizophrenic flatmate have accused Auckland District Health Board of negligence.

Geoffrey Tampin, a long-term psychiatric patient with a history of occasionally aggressive behaviour, had been skipping medication, drinking excessively and taking recreational drugs in the months before he killed his flatmate Dean Clark in Balmoral, Auckland, in June last year.

The ADHB commissioned an external inquiry of the care provided to Tampin before the killing, but has refused to release the inquiry report on privacy grounds.

The health board has also refused to reveal whether any of its staff were reprimanded or faced other employment consequences in the wake of the murder.

Last week, in a one-line statement to the Sunday Star-Times, Clark's parents said: "Our son paid with his life for the health board's negligence."

The ADHB has expressed its deep apologies to the Clark and Tampin families for the problems with care identified by the review.

Chief medical officer Dr Margaret Wilsher said: "Our health professionals strive to support individuals with very complex needs. The outcomes are not always predictable and that just means we always need to work harder to improve what we do for our patients."

In October Tampin was found not guilty, on grounds of insanity, of murdering Clark, and he is now being treated as a "special patient".

Last month the Sunday Star-Times revealed that hours before Tampin killed Clark, his mother contacted Auckland District Health Board's mental health services, concerned about his state of mind. She also contacted them five months earlier to say her son had been making threats to kill someone. At that point she was advised to contact police.

Court documents showed Tampin, who had been under the care of mental health services since the late 1990s, mainly in the community, had been assessed by mental health workers just weeks before the murder, when he had told them he was struggling with the insistent voices in his head.

Tampin later said he had asked for respite care but had been turned down. He also said he was prescribed B vitamins and fish oil pills.

Last month the ADHB said it had commissioned an external inquiry into Tampin's care. However, it refused to answer several questions about the inquiry, including whether or not any staff had been formally warned, disciplined or dismissed as a result.

In a statement, the ADHB said: "It is not possible to respond to this question on the grounds that employees are entitled to privacy."

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The Star-Times has resubmitted the question as an Official Information Act request.

While it won't release the full inquiry report, the ADHB has released a summary of its recommendations, which it says are all being implemented.

One recommendation was that if a concerned family member of a psychiatric patient is advised to call police, clinical staff must follow that up by making direct contact with the police as well. Another called for a formal system for following up declined referrals.

The other 12 recommendations, though written in heavily bureaucratic jargon, give some hint of other failings identified in Tampin's care. They include proposed changes to risk assessment and documentation practices, and new processes for liaison when a case is shared between mental-health services and Community Alcohol and Drug Services.

- Sunday Star Times

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