The biggest investment at Hawke's Bay Hospital since the amalgamation of Napier and Hastings hospitals in 1991 was officially opened by Health Minister Jonathan Coleman yesterday.

The $22 million mental health inpatient unit, Nga Rau Rakau, has 23 beds and includes a gym.

It was co-designed with a Patient Advisory Group which started as a stakeholder group that the Hawke's Bay District Health Board consulted with, but evolved into a partner.

Director of area mental health services Simon Shaw said the co-design was "one of the greatest success stories of this project".


"One of the clearest messages from the consumer group was that people wanted easily-contactable and culturally accessible services which would respond quickly, preventing most people from needing hospital," he said.

Patient Advisory Group chair Deborah Grace said Nga Rau Rakau was designed by the staff who would work in it and the clients who would use it.

"Consumers are at last being accepted as a vital part of the planning and delivery of an essential service."

She said a single-entry system with a centralised patient file was a welcome development, with patients no longer having to repeat their story to multiple health professionals.

Dr Coleman said patient input was "absolutely vital" for changing services, as was physical reconfiguration.

In his sixth year of medical school Dr Coleman worked at the former unit for four weeks.

"I have a very clear memory from one night, at the front of the unit, having a discussion with a patient who was certainly extending the very limit of my professional skills."

Due to the layout of the old building no-one came to his aid.

"I wondered where everyone else was, but of course no-one could see me."

He said Nga Rau Rakau was world class, physically and through service changes.

The district health board's chief executive Dr Kevin Snee, who once said the former building was "a blot on the landscape", said Hawke's Bay mental health services had contact with more than 6000 people last year.

"It is vitally important that we make sure we get it right," he said.

The advisory group won the Royston Hospital Supreme Award at the Hawke's Bay Health Awards in November. The group also won the Southern Community Laboratories Excellence in Service Improvement Award.