Clinic closed over 'witchcraft' fears

BRONWYN TORRIE
Last updated 07:25 17/02/2013

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Whanganui District Health Board canned its natural therapy clinic after senior doctors expressed concerns about "witchcraft" being practised at the hospital, leaked documents reveal.

They also show the DHB spent $4777 seeking legal opinions on the clinic - it had previously said no extra money had been spent on setting it up in a building on Wanganui Hospital grounds.

Documents show the clinic was covered by the board's liability insurance and that the Medical Council needed evidence it would do no harm.

Meditation, massage and energy healing - including reiki and colour therapy - were offered free to staff as part of a three-month trial which began in August. Fifteen therapists treated 75 staff over five weeks.

Therapists worked in pairs. There was to be no spinal manipulation, no use of needles and no prescription of ingested remedies. No patients other than staff were treated with reiki or given meditation cards.

The trial was halted in September after comments by emergency department specialist Chris Cresswell linked the clinic to witchcraft and wizardry. He was the driving force behind the initiative and wanted to open it up to patients.

The DHB refused to release information about the clinic under the Official Information Act. However, it provided documents and emails to general surgeon and health board member Clive Solomon who had requested the same information.

The papers include minutes from a Medical Staff Association meeting on September 19 that say senior doctors did not realise "witchcraft" would be offered at the clinic when they agreed to the proposal.

"We previously agreed to something but it has been introduced with no supervision and no checks and balances. It was introduced under the smokescreen of Christian prayer and Maori alternative medicine but many other therapies have been introduced including witchcraft."

The minutes also contained comments about the clinic making it "more difficult to recruit senior doctors". "We as the medical staff should not be associated with it. Having it on our premises and association with medical specialists is an endorsement, and it should stop."

They agreed the final decision to close the clinic was up to management, not the association. However, they were told by chief executive Julie Patterson the clinic would not continue without the support of senior doctors.

It was shut down soon after the meeting.

Prior to the clinic closing, Patterson said in an email discussing Cresswell's wizardry comments that she had received a "formal complaint about the matter".

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A day later she wrote: "Confidentially I have started a process for dealing with this under a disciplinary umbrella so the better the understanding I have the better."

In a statement to the Sunday Star-Times, Patterson refused to comment on "the complainant, the staff member involved or individuals".

She said when initially asked about the cost of the trial, "I did, in an error, overlook" the cost of a legal opinion from Buddle Findlay about the DHB's liability.

Cresswell said on Wednesday that he had been directed not to comment on the natural therapy clinic or whether any employment action had been taken against him.

- Fairfax Media

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