Warning: This story deals with suicide and may be upsetting.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has said she will speak to the parents of Nicky Stevens who sought her intervention after Waikato District Health Board requested a second coroner's inquest into their son's death.
Ardern was responding to questions from the Herald about why she had not replied to Jane Stevens and Dave Macpherson's letters seeking help with the situation on the day Stevens labelled the DHB's actions an "ingrained culture of denial".
Nicholas Taiaroa Macpherson Stevens took his own life while in the care of the DHB's mental health facility in 2015 and in December the 21-year-old's death was ruled avoidable by Coroner Wallace Bain.
However, after his whānau asked the DHB for compensation, the DHB's lawyer wrote to the Solicitor-General claiming "procedural concerns" with Coroner Bain's inquest and asked for a new coroner be appointed to "conduct further inquiries".
The unusual move has been widely criticised, with New Zealander of the Year and suicide prevention advocate Mike King calling for board chairwoman Sally Webb and interim chief executive Derek Wright to resign after they fronted the decision.
Yesterday, the same day Stevens made a request to the health board for funding to cover legal expenses, Ardern said she had "not deliberately not responded".
"I hear and understand that they are seeking to meet with me. Their story is one that I just have huge sympathy for. No family wants to have that experience," Ardern said.
"Ultimately what the DHB is doing is a matter for the DHB. They're acting independently on this. It's not something we are directly involved with."
However, Ardern said she would be "happy" to hear the whānau's story.
"We need to learn the lessons of loss in this country, particularly as we work towards making mental health a priority in our budget."
When questioned further on whether the Government could help the whānau in their bid for legal funding, Ardern said it was difficult.
"If they do want to share their story and their story of loss, that is something as our Minister of Health [David Clark] has done - he has sat down with the family and heard them - I would be willing to do that also, even if it's just a phone call."
Stevens was heartened by the gesture and had already contacted the PM's office to arrange a meeting.
"This meeting is important because our son's case is just one example of many where families are treated appallingly by DHBs, retraumatised and left with little or no support after the death of a loved one," she said.
"This Government has undertaken to make transformational change to our mental health system.
"Here's one very real example of what needs to change. We want to ensure the Government clearly understand what's happening and at a strategic level make the changes needed to stop this ever happening again."
Stevens said before Ardern became Prime Minister she met with the grieving families of suicide victims who gathered at Parliament as part of The Shoe Project, in which 579 pairs of shoes were laid out to symbolise the number of deaths by suicide in 2016.
"Before the elections when we set up The Shoe Project at Parliament I walked up the stairs and placed Nicky's boots at the door of Parliament, in a symbolic statement to bring suicide from the darkness and into the light, to knock on the door of Parliament, asking for change.
"Jacinda spoke that day to our families gathered there and she shed tears when she saw the hundreds of pairs of shoes. Let our son's shoes be a symbol for change and a meeting with the Prime Minister be a step forward towards making change happen."
While Crown Law investigates whether a new coroner should be appointed, Waikato District Health Board has not agreed a process or timeframe to respond to the family's request for funding.
Meanwhile, it will be four years next weekend since Nicky left the Henry Rongomau Bennett Centre on unescorted leave, against his parents express direction, and was found dead three days later in the Waikato River.