NZ Intellectual Disability Services Come Under Scrutiny
18 February 2019 at 3:36 pm
New Zealand’s chief ombudsman is investigating the Ministry of Health and its services for people with intellectual disabilities amid fears vulnerable people are being unlawfully detained.
Peter Boshier said he would conduct two investigations to consider the health system’s capacity to meet the needs of people with intellectual disabilities.
The ministry includes Disability Support Services, which is responsible for services for people with an intellectual disability who have committed a crime and are under compulsory care legislation.
The chief ombudsman said he was aware of problems around a lack of beds in facilities.
“This has meant some people have faced lengthy delays before being assessed as ordered by the courts,” Boshier said.
“I will also consider whether some have been unlawfully detained in prison or other unsuitable places because there has been nowhere else for them to go.”
The ministry contracts five District Health Boards to provide forensic intellectual disability services. These DHBs provide about 66 hospital beds across NZ.
Boshier said his investigation would examine if these facilities were suitable for people referred by the courts for assessment and for long-term clients, women and young people.
“I will also look at how much workforce planning is being done to make sure there are enough appropriately trained staff,” he said.
There have been numerous reports recently of NZ people with intellectual disability being locked in mental health units for extended periods.
This includes a man who spent eight years in a locked mental health facility before his release last year, and a Christchurch man who has been in a locked unit for 14 years with mental health patients who have committed serious crimes.
This investigation was welcomed by NZ Disability Rights Commissioner Paula Tesoriero, who said the voices of people with learning disabilities had often been unheard or silenced for too long.
She said it was vital to evaluate whether current arrangements protected the rights of people when they were detained or living in controlled environments.
“This is particularly so when people are living in secure residential facilities and have limited access to independent advocacy,” Tesoriero said.
“We need robust processes to ensure people with learning disabilities are not unlawfully detained in inappropriate facilities or detained longer than they would have been had they been through the criminal justice system.”
Alongside the inquiry into facilities and service, the ombudsman is also conducting a separate investigation into the quality of data collected by the ministry around the deaths of people with intellectual disabilities in forensic and residential care.
“I consider that obtaining good quality data is essential to understanding where the pressure points are and for reviewing systems of care,” Boshier said.
“I want to ensure that the ministry is collecting enough information about these deaths to identify whether any improvements can be made.”
These investigations will include site visits and one-on-one interviews with clients and their families, officials, medical professionals and other stakeholders.
The investigation into data quality is expected to be completed in the second half of 2019, while the investigation into facilities and services is planned to finish in the first half of 2020.