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Media release

Third reports highlights overrepresentation of Māori in mental health seclusion

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The Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier has highlighted for the third time in less than a year the overrepresentation of Māori in mental health seclusion.

Ward 21, an acute mental health inpatient unit at Palmerston North Hospital, was inspected by the Ombudsman in May last year.

In his report published today, Mr Boshier has highlighted a number of troubling issues at the unit, including the overrepresentation of Māori patients in seclusion events.

 “Of the 20 seclusion events at Ward 21 reported in the six months to 30 April 2021, 14 of them involved Māori patients. That amounts to 70 percent, despite only 38 percent of patients on the ward at the time identifying as Māori,” Mr Boshier says.

“The Ministry of Health needs to look at why this is occurring. Only last week I highlighted the same issue in a report on a mental health unit in Bay of Plenty, and last year the issue also arose at another facility in Whanganui.

“It is my view that seclusion - putting someone alone in a space from which they cannot freely leave - has little therapeutic value and as a practice, should be declining. Instead, it appears, at least for Māori, to be increasing.  I have recommended that all necessary steps are taken to reduce the disproportionate seclusion of Māori at Ward 21.”

Mr Boshier has also recommended MidCentral District Heath Board and the Ministry of Heath urgently progress work on the planned rebuild of the facility and in line with best practice.

“The conditions at this facility are what I would describe as poor, for reasons that include being at capacity or over-capacity at times and a dreary physical environment, particularly in the crowded and noisy high needs unit.

“The DHB has accepted the ward conditions are no longer fit for purpose, and staff said they hoped the new building would lead to a significant improvements for patients.

“I am encouraged that the DHB has accepted all 17 of the recommendations I made in my report and I will look forward to seeing these fulfilled in the near future,” Mr Boshier says.

The inspections were carried out under the Crimes of Torture Act 1989. New Zealand is a signatory to the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture (OPCAT), an international human rights agreement.

Read the report: 

Editor’s note

New Zealand ratified the United Nations’ Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT) in 2007. The Protocol requires states to establish independent National Preventive Mechanisms (NPMs) to regularly inspect places of detention and report on the treatment and conditions of those held within them.

The Chief Ombudsman was originally designated as a National Preventive Mechanism under OPCAT in 2007 which means he monitors places of detention designated to him, such as health and disability facilities, to prevent torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

He can recommend practical improvements to address any risks, poor practices, or systemic problems that could result in a service-user being treated badly. Follow-up inspections are conducted to look for progress in implementing previous recommendations. Reports are written on what is observed at the time of inspection.

Find out more about the Chief Ombudsman’s role in examining and monitoring places of detention, and read our other OPCAT reports, at

You can also follow us on Facebook: @ombudsmannz or Twitter: @Ombudsman_NZ

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