11:20 am

A Whangarei couple are up in arms that their suicidal daughter managed to buy cannabis while a patient in Whangarei Hospital's mental health unit.

The couple, who do not wish to be named, say their daughter's fragile mental state was compounded by the cannabis and she later attempted suicide while in the ward.

The woman, aged 19, admitted herself to the mental health unit on February 23.

Her parents, who went with her to the unit, said they told staff she was feeling suicidal and that they were concerned for her safety.

"We were assured that she would have ample supervision and that there was nothing in her room with which she could harm herself," the father said.

"But that night she took a knife from the kitchen and used it to smash the mirror in her room, then used that to cut her wrists."

The cut required stitches and he said the couple were concerned that she had access to a knife in the first place.

He also said they felt their daughter lacked supervision while in the unit.

"We don't blame the nurses and doctors up there, but we do blame the managers for not having enough staff up there," the woman's mother said.

The man said hospital management told him in a later meeting that there was a shortage of mental health workers around the world and Whangarei Hospital was no different from others.

"That might be the case, but it's not a good enough excuse. We are concerned for the safety of our daughter but our concerns are being ignored," he said.

"There are not enough staff there and she shouldn't have been allowed to buy drugs there or be allowed to try to kill herself. We are worried sick that we will lose her while she is in that unit."

Northland Health communications manager Luke Worth said the woman patient had requested that the hospital not discuss her case in public and he had to respect that wish.

However, Mr Worth said there had been occasions when cannabis had been discovered in the unit. He said when that happened the person was reported to police and it was up to the police to decide if charges would be laid against the person.

Mr Worth did not have details of how many people had been referred to the police for having drugs in the mental health unit.

He said there was a worldwide shortage of mental health workers and that was reflected in Northland.

Mr Worth said Whangarei Hospital's mental health unit was a "little bit better off" with regard to staffing than most of its counterparts around the country.

Whangarei police Detective Sergeant Warren Moetara, who was head of Northland's drug squad until this week, said there had been occasional problems with people taking drugs into the mental health unit.

Mr Moetara said police occasionally took drug sniffer dogs through the unit and small quantities of cannabis had been found, but he did not believe there was any widespread drug dealing in the unit.