WARNING: This article deals with suicide and may be upsetting.
The parents of Nicky Stevens, whose suicide while in the care of a mental health facility was ruled avoidable by a Coroner, say a challenge by Waikato District Health Board over the findings will drag out their anguish.
The DHB has raised concerns with the Solicitor-General about Coroner Wallace Bain's inquest process, prompting Dave Macpherson and Jane Stevens to write to the Solicitor-General calling the actions an "abuse of process, and a misuse of taxpayer funds".
The move has stalled negotiations between the parties over compensation for the 21-year-old's death almost four years ago, and prompted the whānau to seek a meeting with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Justice Minister Andrew Little instead.
Nicholas Taiaroa Macpherson Stevens took his own life while on unescorted leave from the Henry Rongomau Bennett Centre at Waikato Hospital in March 2015.
In December Coroner Bain ruled Nicky's death could have been avoided had the advice of his parents not to allow their son on unescorted leave been followed.
Bain said because of the deficiencies in Nicky's care he was able to take his own life "in the precise manner and place he previously said he would".
Macpherson, Stevens and their eldest son Tony wrote to the DHB, where Macpherson is a board member, on December 18 after a meeting with board chairwoman Sally Webb and interim chief executive Derek Wright, asking that an independent party be appointed to assess a "fair and reasonable" level of compensation.
They said the compensation needed to reflect the financial and emotional pressure their son and brother's death had caused, the fact his death was avoidable, and that the situation was compounded by inaction from the police who did not search for Nicky until two days after he went missing.
They listed legal, funeral, and medical expenses, Nicky's headstone and memorial seat, travel to the Coroner's inquest in Hamilton, the change to their lives and the Coroner's findings as factors that should be considered.
Stevens said compensation was not just about money and that the whānau wanted a sincere apology from the DHB that accepted responsibility for Nicky's death.
"This is about principle and closure and actually making a change for families that have been affected, and setting a precedent," Stevens said.
"We want a precedent for better accountability and support for families when things go wrong."
But in a letter on Friday the DHB stated it had "procedural concerns about how the Coroner had acted".
"One particular concern was that he dismissed the views of Dr [Nick] O'Connor [during the inquest], without giving him an opportunity to be heard," the letter signed by Webb and Wright said.
"The [DHB's] insurer has instructed the DHB's external counsel [Paul White] to raise concerns about the Coroner's process with the Solicitor-General."
O'Connor is a consultant psychiatrist from Sydney who was a member of the team that reviewed the DHB's care of Nicky during the period leading up to his death.
In a response letter on Saturday the couple wrote: "You are factually completely incorrect to claim that the Coroner 'dismissed' the views of Dr O'Connor – his evidence was presented in writing and accepted by all parties, including the Coroner, and your own counsel told the court his appearance was not necessary".
A transcript of the inquest shows White suggested O'Connor not appear, via video link from Australia, because it would "delay matters" and "inconvenience everybody". Bain agreed and accepted the evidence in writing.
"We believe that the actions of Waikato DHB, their insurers and their legal counsel amount to an abuse of process, and a misuse of taxpayer funds," Macpherson said in a letter to Solicitor-General Una Jagose.
In a letter to other board members, Macpherson said the family was appalled and devastated that Waikato DHB appeared "more concerned with protecting its own perceived interests" than in supporting the family to move on with their lives.
"...more anguish and grief for us, while taxpayer-funded legal manoeuvring rakes over many of the issues we thought were settled."
A spokeswoman for the DHB said the words in the transcript had "considerable context" which it couldn't explain because the matter was before the Solicitor-General.
She said the DHB outlined a number of procedural concerns with the inquest on Bain's draft report, and "not all of these have been acknowledged in the final report".
"Our insurer has instructed the DHB's external counsel to raise concerns about the Coroner's process with the Solicitor-General, with our support.
"None of our decisions in this matter have been taken lightly as we understand this has already been a lengthy and painful process for the family."
Bain could not comment but seven paragraphs in his report are dedicated to O'Connor's evidence.
WHERE TO GET HELP:
If you are worried about your or someone else's mental health, the best place to get help is your GP or local mental health provider. However, if you or someone else is in danger or endangering others, call 111.
If you need to talk to someone, the following free helplines operate 24/7:
DEPRESSION HELPLINE: 0800 111 757
LIFELINE: 0800 543 354
NEED TO TALK? Call or text 1737
SAMARITANS: 0800 726 666
YOUTHLINE: 0800 376 633 or text 234
There are lots of places to get support. For others, click here.