Natalie Akoorie is a reporter at the NZ Herald based in Hamilton.

Nicky Stevens inquiry: Family outraged over 'butt-covering' exercise

Image from Facebook page dedicated to the memory of Nicky Stevens. Photo / via Facebook
Image from Facebook page dedicated to the memory of Nicky Stevens. Photo / via Facebook

The family of Nicky Stevens, who died after leaving a Hamilton mental health facility unescorted, have labelled a report into his death "backside covering" after Waikato District Health Board refused to accept responsibility.

Stevens, 21, was a mental health patient under a compulsory care order at the DHB's Henry Bennett Centre when he went out for a cigarette and was found dead in the Waikato River several days later.

Stevens' father, Dave Macpherson - now a Waikato District Health Board member - said the family were outraged DHB bosses would not accept responsibility for his son's death despite them telling staff at the centre that Stevens was at risk of suicide if he was allowed out unescorted.

The family of Nicky Stevens, (from left) father Dave Macpherson, brother Tony Stevens and mother Jane Stevens, are disappointed with Waikato DHB. Photo / Natalie Akoorie
The family of Nicky Stevens, (from left) father Dave Macpherson, brother Tony Stevens and mother Jane Stevens, are disappointed with Waikato DHB. Photo / Natalie Akoorie

Mother Jane Stevens called chief executive Nigel Murray, board chairman Bob Simcock and mental health and addiction clinical services director Dr Rees Tapsell's apology today a "butt-covering exercise".

"I really hoped that they could be big enough to actually apologise sincerely and fully for what's happened to our son to enable us to move on."

She said there had been no closure in the case with next month marking two years since Stevens died.

The DHB apologised for issues leading up to Stevens' death but stopped short at accepting ultimate responsibility.

Macpherson said he believed that was because it could open the DHB up to liability with the family previously asking for legal funding from the organisation to pay for an upcoming Coroner's Inquest into Stevens' death.

The request was rejected by the board and Murray today said that stance remained the same at present.

Murray said he unreservedly apologised to the family for the tragedy and accepted that the DHB did not manage Stevens' leave as well as it should have and that process had been "tightened up".

The family of Nicky Stevens, (from left) father Dave Macpherson, brother Tony Stevens and mother Jane Stevens, are disappointed with Waikato DHB. Photo / Natalie Akoorie
The family of Nicky Stevens, (from left) father Dave Macpherson, brother Tony Stevens and mother Jane Stevens, are disappointed with Waikato DHB. Photo / Natalie Akoorie

The review into Stevens' death, conducted by a panel including an Australia psychologist and a lay person approved by the family, made five recommendations including strengthening leave procedures and the AWOL search process as well as notifications to police of missing patients, and the process for family consultations plus having greater family consultation.

The report found overall Stevens had received a "good standard of care" at the centre, though this was disputed by the family.

Murray said the review had been a lengthy and painful process which was interrupted by a police investigation and the DHB accepted the family had a different perspective on its outcome.

He admitted the DHB "fell short and it was unsatisfactory how we managed their son's leave from the Henry Bennett Centre, so we acknowledge that. I unreservedly apologise for that".

"We do standby our review as a robust and accurate assessment of the care. We have things to learn from it which we're working diligently on and have been since the report was finalised."

He said the DHB did not directly cause Stevens' death.

Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)

Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)

Youthline: 0800 376 633

Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)

Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)

Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7)

If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.

Canterbury Support Line: 0800 777 846

- NZ Herald

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