Case exposes ‘systemic failures’

Clare Curran
Clare Curran
The Southern District Health Board’s response to the plight of a woman with critical mental health needs who has been on a waiting list for 14 months is inadequate, Dunedin South MP Clare Curran says.

The Otago Daily Times recently highlighted the case of Michelle Wilkie, who has a history of  mental health issues and eating disorders.

Doctors, her family and Ms Wilkie all agree she should be treated at Ashburn Clinic.

However, her wait to be admitted to one of the public spaces available in the privately operated clinic has now been over a year, leaving her mother — Ms Wilkie’s primary caregiver — at breaking point.

Ms Curran has taken up Ms Wilkie’s case.

"The DHB acknowledges that Michelle needs treatment for her complex disorders and that Ashburn Clinic is the best facility to provide that treatment," she said.

"They cannot say why a bed is not available and suggesting private funding is, in my view, against the principle of people needing the best care available in the public system.

"The comments made by the DHB of care options offered to Michelle are inadequate given her complex needs, and show a disinterest and lack of care."

SDHB chief executive Chris Fleming wrote to Ms Curran last week about Ms Wilkie’s case.

"Although we agree an admission to Ashburn Clinic sooner rather than later is preferable, we are unable to influence the wait time. There are no viable alternative facilities available."

Ms Curran said Ms Wilkie and her mother had come to their local MP in desperation, due to the "intolerable stress" Ms Wilkie’s chronic health issues had placed upon both women.

"This case has exposed the systemic failures in our mental health system and the tendency to put some people in the too-hard basket," Ms Curran said.

"I ask the DHB how many Ministry of Health beds are there for people like Michelle?

"If there are not enough beds for people like Michelle, why has the DHB not spoken up?"

Ms Curran said the Government intended to review the mental health system.

"We need to ensure people like Michelle aren’t put in the too-hard basket and left to struggle in sub-optimal conditions for years while the system ignores them."

Mr Fleming’s letter said support services had been put in place for Ms Wilkie.

"The team certainly take Ms Wilkie’s concerns seriously and her care is regularly discussed at the South Community Mental Health Team Multi-Disciplinary Team meetings in an attempt to find suitable solutions.

"The ongoing plan currently is to continue to encourage Michelle to engage and utilise the supports that are offered."


There may be 'public' beds in a private hospital, but admission and 'wait' times are administered by the private hospital.