Second inquiry underway after another Palmerston North Hospital death

palmerston north hospital
Palmerston North Hospital. Photo credit: Google Maps

By Jimmy Ellingham for RNZ

Warning: this article deals with mental health issues.

A coroner has opened an inquiry into the death of a mental health ward inpatient at Palmerston North Hospital over the weekend.

Another coroner's investigation is underway in relation to a death back in June, where a 58-year-old man suffered injuries at the hospital and died six days later.

MidCentral chief executive Kathryn Cook confirmed Saturday's incident, saying their thoughts and sympathies were with the 19-year-old's family and friends.

"MidCentral DHB has extended its support to the family and is also supporting staff involved in caring for the young man," Cook said.

"The young man's death has been referred to the coroner and NZ police, and the appropriate investigations will take place.

"To honour the privacy of the young man and his family, and until investigations have concluded, it is inappropriate for MidCentral to comment further at this stage."

A police spokesperson said officers attended the incident and would help the coronial investigation.

The mental health ward at the hospital was declared unfit for purpose after two suspected suicides of inpatients in 2014. Shaun Gray and Erica Hume's deaths will be examined in coronial hearings next year.

Their deaths prompted an external review that uncovered systemic problems with the MidCentral District Health Board's mental health service.

A new ward is due to be built by the end of next year, after the Government confirmed the business case had ministerial signoff in the run-up to last year's election.

Shaun Gray's brother Ricky said an independent review was needed to see if lessons were learned after previous probes.

"It appears now we're just starting to see a downward spiral of these events happening."

Gray said his family were shocked to hear of this year's incidents and offered condolences to the men's families and friends.

"As a family, we are tired of hearing stories where MidCentral may have failed to support patients. Following the avoidable death of Shaun in 2014, there were over 60 recommendations which were formed, which covered multiple areas within MidCentral health.

"Hearing of these recent incidents, someone needs to understand what is going on down there."

He said it seemed as if measures put in place were being taken away, like the appointment of a clinical executive for mental health and addictions.

When Vanessa Caldwell left that position in September for a term as deputy health and disability commissioner, a direct replacement was not appointed.

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