More than 200 patients have been locked in seclusion rooms in the psychiatric unit at Tauranga Hospital in the past three years, new figures show.
In one case a patient was put in one of the hospital's three seclusion rooms for 173 hours and 53 minutes - or more than seven days.
The hospital says the patients are placed in the rooms when they assessed as being at risk of harming others but the practice has been slammed by the Mental Health Foundation, which says isolating patients is ''toxic and hugely harmful for people in distress''.
Data supplied under the Official Information Act showed the oldest patient to be placed in a seclusion room was a male aged over 80 and the youngest was a female under 16.
The hospital had received three complaints about placing patients in seclusion rooms over the past two years.
Bay of Plenty District Health Board mental health clinical director Dr Sue Mackersey said each room had a bed, an ensuite with a toilet, shower and basin, a large external window and had water available.
A staff member stayed outside the door at all times so the person in seclusion could see and/or speak to another person, she said.
Dr Mackersey said the patient secluded for seven days ''was an exceptional situation and was what was required to ensure safety at the time''.
The DHB's governance and quality general manager, Gail Bingham, said it was working to reduce the use of seclusion and there were strict provisions around its use.
She said the rooms could be used only with the authority of a patient's clinician or in an emergency when a nurse or other health professional ordered it and informed the patient's doctor.
The threshold for seclusion was ''being at imminent risk of harming others''. No patients held in a seclusion room in the past two years had suffered a medical event or required further intervention.
Mental Health Foundation chief executive Shaun Robinson said seclusion was completely inappropriate and three DHBs had successfully eliminated seclusion within their mental health services.
''It causes distress to both patients and staff, and poses significant risks to service users, including death, retraumatisation, loss of dignity and other psychological harm.''
The foundation acknowledged the demand for mental health services had increased by 70 per cent in the past decade and funding had not kept pace, he said.
The Health Minister's office referred the Bay of Plenty Times to Director of Mental Health Dr John Crawshaw, who said it was committed to policies aimed at the reduction, and eventual elimination, of seclusion.
Last year Tauranga Hospital made headlines and came under fire from the Office of the Ombudsman, which found the use of seclusion rooms as bedrooms amounted to potentially cruel and inhumane treatment of patients.
This week NZME reported a mentally unwell patient at Waikato DHB was locked in solitary confinement for 23 days, another was found in seclusion suffering serious injuries that required surgery, and other patients did not receive their daily entitlement to fresh air.
The chief commissioner at the Human Rights Commission, David Rutherford, told NZME the issue continued to come up and detaining agencies could now expect greater scrutiny.