Health authorities are considering plans to move autistic man Ashley Peacock to a purpose-built cottage on the Porirua hospital grounds, to the dismay of his elderly parents.

The Herald understands a proposal to shift Ashley - whose treatment by Capital & Coast was previously labelled "inhuman" - to a new part of the facility is with the Ministry of Health.

His parents, Dave and Marlena Peacock, were told brief details of the plan but were not able to see the paperwork. An Official Information Act request to view the proposal was refused.

The move would go not only against the family's wishes, but against the recommendations of an expert disability review panel, who said Ashley, 39, should be transferred to the community directly so he could "develop a life worth living".

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"We were shocked and upset by this proposal," they wrote in an email to the Herald.

"Whilst it may be a worthwhile facility for some patients, it is not in Ashley's best interests as it would fail to deliver the quiet rural environment or the type of care in which Ashley would thrive."

Ashley Peacock (right) with his father Dave. Photo / Supplied
Ashley Peacock (right) with his father Dave. Photo / Supplied

Ashley has been kept in a tiny wing of the mental health unit named Tawhirimatea at Porirua for five years, allowed outside for an average 90 minutes a day.

He sleeps in a 10m-square room with just a mattress and a urine bottle, and when staff order it, can be locked in for long periods - despite repeated warnings from multiple agencies that his condition is deteriorating, and his treatment breaches human rights.

The Chief Ombudsman earlier this year labelled his living situation "cruel, inhuman or degrading", prompting fresh calls for him to be removed from near-permanent seclusion.

Capital & Coast have previously said Ashley had some of the "highest and most complex needs" and had issues with unpredictable violence. From their perspective, safety was paramount.

Previously, the Peacocks believed they were working towards a community placement for Ashley.

This followed a review from the National Intellectual Disability Care Agency in March which said: "The only viable solution will be for Ashley to be transitioned directly out of the de-escalation area of Tawhirimatea to a community placement."

The reviewers wrote it would need to be a dedicated service, and as such Ashley's current provider, Community Connections, had said it was prepared to take him on, despite knowing it would be hard work.

Executive Director John Taylor said news Ashley may instead go to a cottage was "problematic".

"Effectively, they're trying to test him for living in the community in a place that isn't a community situation," he said.

"They have had Ashley in there for ten years. They've tried all kind of drugs and are making no progress. And now they say they want more time? He will still be dealt with in the same way. It will in no way prepare him for the community."

Taylor thought if Ashley went to the cottage, he would be unlikely to come out.

Ashley Peacock before he went into Tawhirimatea. Photo / Supplied
Ashley Peacock before he went into Tawhirimatea. Photo / Supplied

Former Green Party MP Kevin Hague, who was championing Ashley's case, said it was unfair to cut the family out of the process, and to ignore the expert recommendations.

"I'm not a clinician, so I'm not going to pretend I know exactly what's best for Ashley, but I have grave concerns about what seems to be a plan to build a 'mini-prison' onsite for Ashley," he said.

"It's hard to see how this would improve Ashley's condition," he said.

Hague thought the proposal made it clear that money was a "big factor" in Ashley's case.

The Ministry of Health refused to release details of the proposal to the Herald.

Director of mental health Dr John Crawshaw told the Gisborne Herald work was ongoing on a "package of care" for Ashley.

"The priority continues to be to developing a care package which is clinically appropriate, viable, sustainable and safe."

Capital & Coast DHB did not to comment while the process was ongoing.

Earlier this week the Peacocks met with a visiting special rapporteur on the United Nations rights of persons with disabilities, who invited the family to write to her about Ashley's case.

The Peacocks will make a submission about their son's seclusion and ongoing detention.

Example of a seclusion room at a Government-run mental health facility. Photo / File
Example of a seclusion room at a Government-run mental health facility. Photo / File

The story so far

• Autistic man Ashley Peacock is held in an isolated wing of a mental health unit for five years, allowed just 90 minutes a day outside.

• The Ombudsman and Human Rights Commission consider his case one of prolonged seclusion, a practice subject to a reduction policy in New Zealand.

• His family say they want their son out. A review document agrees, saying he should be transitioned to a community setting as soon as possible.

• Opposition politicians call for Health Minister Jonathan Coleman to intervene. Dr Coleman passes responsibility for the case to Associate Health Minister Sam Lotu-Iiga, who defends Ashley's treatment.

• The Human Rights Commission announces it will bring an international expert to New Zealand to investigate seclusion practices.

• The Ombudsman releases new investigation into Ashley's treatment, including a statement from Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier that his living situation amounts to "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment".

• A petition for Ashley's release is presented to Parliament, and will come before the Health Select Committee