Family criticise health system

The family of a man who died while on leave from Nelson Hospital's Mental Health Admission Unit has questioned how the health system deals with the mentally ill.

An inquest into the death of Jared Leonard Macbeth, 35, was held at the Nelson District Court yesterday.

Mr Macbeth had paranoid schizophrenia and had been an in-patient at the unit for six weeks when he was found dead on December 14, 2007, at his Stoke home.

He had been out on three hours' unescorted leave.

The court heard from his father, John Macbeth, who read a letter he had written to the Christchurch coroner's office in April 2008.

In the letter he said the staff of Nelson Hospital's mental health unit had "done their best" and the family was thankful for that.

However, he said there may be a "possible system process failure" in the mental health unit.

He was concerned about the way they had handled his son just before an incident on November 1 when he allegedly attacked a car with a machete while the driver was in it.

On the morning of the alleged attack, Jared Macbeth had gone to the mental health unit asking for a shower because he was sweating due to paranoia, but he was told to call the mobile community team.

The visit was not recorded in his notes.

"Jared would not have approached the mental health unit unless he needed help ... [he] should not have been turned away but told to stay where he was until the MCT was called for him ... he was a walking or driving time-bomb and a potential risk to the public."

He was also concerned that mental health professionals were "bound by the constraints within their system" and families could not get treatment for their family member until they did something wrong.

It was "a real concern" that his family could see that Jared Macbeth was a threat to others and himself, and yet no action could be taken under the Mental Health Act until he was identified as being a risk to them or others.

"We didn't get listened to until something happened ... it must be happening to other people."

Nelson Marlborough District Health Board mental health clinical director Heather McPherson said if Jared Macbeth had been displaying worrying behaviour when he visited the mental health unit, the staff would have taken notice and followed the usual procedure of keeping him there and calling the MCT themselves.

"He was known to some of the staff and he wasn't observed to be acting unwell."

Even if there was a record it would have taken two days to process it, and electronic patient records were in their infancy at the DHB.

She and staff had since met with the family and explained procedures.

Dr Macpherson said if a family remained concerned about their family member's treatment, they should speak up rather than having "a snapshot" that determined treatment.

"The important lesson is for ongoing assessment."

Ministry of Health mental health director David Chaplow said he suspected there may have been an incident in the four hours between Jared Macbeth visiting the mental health unit and the alleged attack but because there was no record of his visit it was difficult to know for sure.

Coroner Ian Smith said he would accept a submission from the health board about the use of electronic record keeping. He reserved his decision until he had the results of an Environmental Science and Research report into a substance Jared had been taking.

The Nelson Mail