Several emails and a memo released under the Official Information Act, which the Bay of Plenty DHB tried to stop happening, reveal fallout from and response to damning internal report.

Three key staff members from the Bay of Plenty District Health Board's mental health and addiction services department were asked to take "some time out" after the release of a damning internal report earlier this year, new emails show.

The request was made "to allow a safe environment for investigation for all of those involved" and the Ministry of Health, after being informed of the report, moved quickly to meet with the district health board's leadership about the issues.

Two managers remained on leave for months following the internal report, which described a "low-trust, punitive workplace culture" where an "immense workload" led staff to say "sometimes it feels like we're drowning".

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Now, new emails and a briefing memo released under the Official Information Act by the ministry provide an insight into the fallout from the report and show there were "critical service coverage issues" at the embattled department.

However, the Bay of Plenty District Health Board tried to stop that information from being released, according to a staff email sent this month, which was leaked to the Bay of Plenty Times.

The emails released under the Official Information Act show exchanges between the district health board's chief operating officer, Pete Chandler, and the Ministry of Health's director of mental health and addiction services, Dr John Crawshaw.

Chandler informed Crawshaw about the internal report in an email sent on February 28, with the subject line "Confidential note".

"It is likely that you will hear about this very shortly, if not already, because the report has raised some significant issues which we now need to investigate formally, and quickly," Chandler said.

"At this point, three key staff will be taking some time out (not suspension) at our request, to allow a safe environment for investigation for all of those involved."

He also told Crawshaw that the report was undertaken "at staff request".

Within an hour of that email being sent, Crawshaw had replied to Chandler.

"As you may have gathered I have had a phone call from Sue," he said.

Dr Sue Mackersey was head of mental health and addiction services at the Bay of Plenty District Health Board at the time.

Crawshaw said in his reply email to Chandler that he would appreciate a briefing "as to your position and plans".

"I also will need to understand the implications for the statutory positions Sue holds."

Mackersey would eventually resign from her role at the Bay of Plenty District Health Board months later, but she still holds the statutory position of director of area mental health services for Tairāwhiti.

The ministry confirmed Mackersey has held that role since December 12, 2016.

She is also still the director of area addiction services for Tairāwhiti, appointed October 30, 2017.

Attempts by the Bay of Plenty Times to contact Mackersey for comment have been unsuccessful.

Dr Sue Mackersey. Photo / File
Dr Sue Mackersey. Photo / File

Following that February 28 email, Crawshaw visited the Bay of Plenty on March 6 to discuss the challenges with Chandler, the district health board's chief executive, Helen Mason, and chief medical officer Hugh Lees.

The visit was noted in a weekly report briefing memo, which was also released by the ministry under the Official Information Act.

The memo noted that having members of the leadership team and senior staff on leave, as well as resignations, had posed "critical service coverage issues".

It said several actions had been put in place to stabilise the service and address "acute coverage issues".

Two update emails, parts of which have been redacted, were then sent by Chandler to Crawshaw over the following months.

On April 19, Chandler wrote that "the two managers are still on leave and I believe we're approaching final exchanges with their representatives".

And on August 21, he said in an email "Sue and the DHB have agreed exit arrangements and final arrangements are being concluded today".

Since then, the Bay of Plenty Times has published a series of articles about the mental health and addiction services department – revealing the damning internal report and a summary of its findings, Mackersey's resignation, and some of the department's challenges, pressures and proposed changes.

The district health board's refusal to release the full internal report is still being appealed to the Office of the Ombudsman by the Bay of Plenty Times.

Bay of Plenty District Health Board chief executive Helen Mason. Photo / File
Bay of Plenty District Health Board chief executive Helen Mason. Photo / File

Meanwhile, earlier this month, acting chief operating officer Bronwyn Anstis sent an email to mental health staff and told them the district health board was working "to avoid ongoing negative media attention and to support the service moving forward".

She warned staff that there may be more publicity regarding the previous leadership in mental health services, and said the ministry had received an Official Information Act request regarding the resignation of Mackersey.

"BOPDHB had received a similar request prior to this and withheld the information on the grounds of protecting individuals privacy (sic). We requested the MoH do the same however they did release further information."

When asked about that email and why the district health board tried to stop the information from being released to the media, chief executive Helen Mason said: "The DHB seeks to handle employment matters with sensitivity and respect for all those involved, and always strives to protect individuals' privacy where appropriate."

A national Mental Health and Addiction Inquiry, which held consultation meetings around New Zealand earlier this year, will report to the Minister of Health by the end of this week.

Timeline

February 28:

Email from Bay of Plenty District Health Board to Ministry of Health says a report has been received that raises "significant issues". Three key staff asked to take "some time out".

March 6: Ministry's director of mental health and addiction services visits Bay of Plenty and meets with district health board's chief executive, chief operating officer and chief medical officer to discuss the issues.

April 19: Update email from Bay of Plenty District Health Board to Ministry of Health says two managers are still on leave, and the district health board is approaching final exchanges with the managers' representatives.

August 21: Update email from Bay of Plenty District Health Board to Ministry of Health says "Sue and the DHB have agreed exit arrangements and final arrangements are being concluded today".

August 28: Bay of Plenty Times reveals the damning internal report and a summary of its findings.

September 6: Bay of Plenty Times reports that Dr Sue Mackersey, head of Bay of Plenty District Health Board's mental health and addiction services department, has resigned.

September 7: Bay of Plenty Times files Official Information Act request with Bay of Plenty District Health Board regarding Mackersey's resignation and staff turnover at the department.

September 7: Bay of Plenty Times also files Official Information Act request with Ministry of Health regarding Mackersey's resignation.

October 3: Ministry of Health extends the period of time available to respond to the request "as further consultation is required".

October 5: Bay of Plenty District Health Board responds to Official Information Act request by withholding information regarding Mackersey's resignation "to protect the privacy of a natural person". District health board does, however, release data on staff turnover at the department.

November 3: Bay of Plenty Times reveals 107 staff members have resigned from the department in the past five years.

November 5: Ministry of Health responds to Official Information Act request and provides several emails and a briefing memo, but redacts some details "to protect the privacy of natural persons".

November 8: District health board sends email to staff, which is leaked to the Bay of Plenty Times, saying there may be more publicity and that the district health board tried to stop the Official Information Act material from being released.

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Summary of internal report