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Auckland DHB questioned over treatment of 'actively suicidal' woman who was discharged hours after arriving at hospital

A young woman says she was failed by the health system after she waited ten hours at Auckland City Hospital, before she was discharged.

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Maddie says she waited 10 hours before she was seen by a doctor for less than five minutes. Source: 1 NEWS

1 NEWS has agreed to protect the identity of the woman, who says she now wants answers to the way she was treated.

Maddie* was in a dark place 12 months ago. She flew to Auckland with the intention of visiting friends, when things became too much.

“I’d been up here for three or four days and at that point I was quite actively suicidal. So I reached out to a friend and she took me to ED,” she told 1 NEWS.

Maddie says they arrived at the emergency department of Auckland City Hospital that evening, where they waited for the crisis team.

It wasn’t until 10 hours later that she was seen by a doctor.

“They came in to see me and at that point I just wanted out of the hospital, I was suicidal, I didn’t want to be there. I wanted to go because I didn’t want to be alive and hospital was stopping that.”

“The crisis worker said to me, are you feeling better and obviously I was like yeah, I’m feeling so much better. And that was what they wanted to hear and what they needed to hear to sign it off, so if they were like OK great. When you’re actively suicidal, the chances of telling someone that you’re planning on doing it is pretty slim because you just want to follow through with it,”

Maddie says the consultation took less than five minutes. After that, she was able to change out of the hospital gown, and was handed back her clothing – including medication that was in her pockets. Then she was discharged.

Less than 24 hours after that she was rushed to the intensive care unit, unable to breathe on her own.

It’s been a long road to recovery, and now she wants answers from Auckland District Health Board as to why she was left alone for hours; the only follow up was a text message; and the medication which placed her life in danger was returned to her discharge.

“I’m pretty shocked that someone could present wanting to end their life and they keep you there for 12 hours and then just decide your suddenly fine?” she says.

Maddie’s signed a privacy waiver, granting the Auckland District Health Board permission to discuss the specifics of her case with 1 NEWS.

But they refuse to comment on her case, citing ethics. Instead, they sent a statement.

The safety and wellbeing of our patients and service users is our highest priority, and we take our obligation to them extremely seriously.

Mental illness can be very challenging and frightening for those who are suffering from it. We acknowledge the distress of our service user and were sorry to hear of her concerns.

Our service user was assessed by our clinical team in line with Australasian College of Emergency Medicine triage scale and cared for by our highly experienced team of clinicians. We are confident that she received an appropriate level of care.

We encourage patients and service users who may have concerns about their care to contact us directly so we can address their concerns, or to contact the Health and Disability Commissioner for an independent review.

1 NEWS spoke with the Mental Health Foundation around what would be a safe and effective way of handling suicidal patients at emergency departments.

It’s Chief Executive Shaun Robinson says “emergency departments are often poorly designed to cater for people experiencing mental distress with simple things such as crowding, noise and long wait time.”

He says this can end up escalating distress for people in crisis.

“It’s vital that people are offered social support, have access to tailored mental health services and that there is respectful, culturally appropriate and compassionate care available at all times.”

Mr Robinson says the bottom line is more work is needed to build and sustain an integrated mental health system that is prevention focus, provides early support, better management of crises and a strong focus on sustained recovery.

Last year, the government detailed a 1.9 billion dollar Wellbeing package; 40 million dollars of that was allocated for suicide prevention services over four years.

Despite pledging that money, a former National Telehealth Service staffer, who worked closely with the Ministry of Health, says not much has been spent.

“it’s really unhelpful when there are constant announcements of new mental health services, with those services not actually in existence or in operation uet, so when people are going to reach out for help and it’s not there, it can be very dangerous,” he told 1 NEWS.

He recently left his job.

“I got very fed up and sad of the inaction…. We have a government who are very committed to mental health but a Ministry that are not, and the government don’t have control over their ministry.

The Ministry of Health also refused to respond to specific questions about mental health spending, instead saying in a statement:

Mental health and wellbeing are priority areas for the Ministry of Health. We are committed to providing a mental health and wellbeing system that places people at the centre, improves equity and expands access and choice.

“I think it’s frustrating that there are a lot of people in the mental health system that are very passionate and are doing the best they can in a very stretched system. There needs to be things happening a lot faster, people don’t have time for more reports to be written, lives are being lost while inaction is taking place,” he says.

Maddie too worries for others who may find themselves in a similar position.

“Having gone though that, there isn’t really much reassurance you can actually offer to people who need help,” she says.

But Maddie, who says she feels is a different person now, remains hopeful.

“I think if funding does get put in and used in the right way it could totally turn around this system and that’s what we so badly need.”