The parents of a former Waikato mental health patient claim the district health board has investigated itself over a formal complaint it had laid.

Jane Stevens and Dave Macpherson say they had laid a complaint over the way senior leaders of the Waikato DHB had responded to the coroner's findings into an inquest over the death of their son, Nicky Stevens.

But the DHB's deputy chair Professor Margaret Wilson says she didn't have jurisdiction to appoint a third party; that could only be done by the Minister of Health - however, he hadn't been approached.

Nicky was a patient in Waikato Hospital's Henry Bennett Centre when he went on unescorted leave and was later found dead in the Waikato River in 2015.


Coroner Wallace Bain ruled the 21-year-old's suicide was "avoidable" and that his care fell "well short of what he and his parents would have expected".

The DHB's lawyer Paul White responded by calling for a new inquest to be heard and claimed there were "numerous procedural irregularities" during the inquest, he was dismissive of a key DHB expert who he said had not been impartial.

The DHB's move meant the family's request for a settlement - to cover legal and funeral expenses - could not be dealt with and allow the family to move on, Jane Stevens said.

The family laid a complaint over the way current chief executive Derek Wright and board chair Sally Webb handled the situation.

In a statement today, Stevens' parents said they laid a complaint as they felt they had been unfairly treated.

That complaint was laid with Professor Margaret Wilson, the Board Deputy Chair – the person responsible in the event of a complaint against the chair.

However, they expected that to be dealt with by a third party, or independent person, due to a potential conflict of interest.

It was instead looked into by deputy chair Professor Margaret Wilson who, in her response, said she would recommend the matter go before the board without Wright or Webb present to assess what action should be taken, but with her view the the complaint be rejected by the board.

Waikato DHB chair Sally Webb and Chief Executive Derek Wright. Photo / File
Waikato DHB chair Sally Webb and Chief Executive Derek Wright. Photo / File

"Personally, I think no further action should be taken because there is no evidence to support the complaints, but also because a reference to the [Health] Minister [David Clark] would further give evidence to the dysfunctionality of the board," Wilson wrote.

In her decision, she also expressed concern at the "procedural correctness" of her reviewing the complaint and that she had no jurisdiction to recommend or appoint a third party to assess it.

"This would be a matter for the Minister of Health. I am uncertain why such a request was not made directly to the Minister."

She said Webb and Wright acted in good faith by meeting with the Macpherson Stevens whanau a few days after the coroner's findings were delivered in December last year and said the family's misinterpretation of that meeting was "unfortunate and maybe a warning for the future".

Wilson added that Macpherson's membership of the board complicated things and presented a conflict of interest.

"It is sometimes difficult to separate out acting as a member of the public and as a board member. It is difficult to ignore the fact that Dave's board membership informs his role as a member of the public."

But Stevens said Wilson's decision and actions "further demonstrate the lack of good faith shown towards our whanau by the DHB Board leadership over four long years".

The Waikato DHB has been approached for comment.