Media release

Mental health services inspected generally got it right over ‘lockdown’

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The Chief Ombudsman says his inspections of mental health facilities during the lockdown shows a good balance is possible between protecting people from COVID 19 and preserving human rights.

Peter Boshier has released a report summarising his inspection of five facilities in the Capital and Coast and Canterbury District Health Board regions.

This is the first of three reports into the treatment and conditions of detained people during COVID-19. Reports on the Chief Ombudsman’s inspections of prisons and aged care facilities will be released in the coming weeks.

“My inspections carried out during Alert Level 3 provided an independent check for New Zealand that any restrictions were necessary, proportionate and legal in the circumstances.”

The five included specialist treatment facilities, specialist forensic mental health services, and acute mental health facilities.

 “Human rights are inalienable. Even during these extraordinary times, people deserve to be treated with care and respect. I am pleased to say that this was achieved in the facilities I inspected.”

Mr Boshier says most facilities improved their standard of cleanliness in light of COVID-19. All but one had protocols in place to encourage and practice physical distancing.

They also had robust plans for service users with potential and confirmed COVID-19 symptoms.

“Staff appeared committed to the safety and welfare of service users, and service users also felt safe.”

At the time of the inspections, no service user in any of the facilities had presented, or was suspected of having, COVID-19 symptoms.

Mr Boshier says most facilities inspected were operating at just over 50 percent capacity, at the time of inspection. This was in contrast to the situation prior to Alert Level 4 when there was a shortage of beds in some acute mental health facilities across the country.

“I am concerned that if occupancy numbers were higher during COVID-19, facilities may have found implementing these plans challenging.”

There were disruptions to visiting practices in all facilities at Alert Levels 4 and 3.

“Contact with the outside world is an essential safeguard against ill-treatment and is critical for the psychological well-being of service users. Restricting visitor access to facilities was one of the most significant challenges for service users during the pandemic.

“I was pleased to find that service users had access to a range of communication tools and were able to maintain contact with whānau.”

“Overall, my findings were positive and the facilities should be congratulated for their efforts,” he says.

“I am heartened by the helpful approach taken by facilities’ management and staff to support my Inspectors. I also thank the various service users and whānau who discussed difficult and personal information with my Teams.”

ENDS

See the report here.

More about the Chief Ombudsman's OPCAT role, including his COVID-19 criteria here

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