Samurai sword confrontation after turned away at Wakari

Wakari Hospital. Photo: ODT
A woman whose Dunedin friend confronted her with a samurai sword says the incident  would never  have happened if her friend had not been turned away by mental health services in the hours beforehand.

After her friend left Wakari Hospital for the second time in 24 hours, the confrontation ensued and police were called.

The friend appeared in the Dunedin District Court yesterday charged with assault with a weapon, assault and threatening to do grievous bodily harm.

She appeared agitated in the dock, removed clothing, gesticulated at various people including the judge and stood on a seat.

Defence counsel Marie Taylor-Cyphers said she had been unable to get clear instructions from the defendant.

A mental health representative in court suggested the defendant be remanded to Wakari Hospital on a 24-hour curfew until next week, which Judge Kevin Phillips endorsed.

Corinda Taylor of the Life Matters Suicide Prevention Trust said staff at Wakari should never have let the woman leave — especially as her friends had stressed several times that she had threatened to harm herself.

The defendant had spent time at Wakari before, the woman, whom  the Otago Daily Times is calling "Ms A", said.

She told the ODT it had been a "horrendous" night.

"I thought she was going to stab me and that I was going to die."

Concerned for her friend’s wellbeing after she started talking about suicide, Ms A and other friends took her to see her mental health nurse early on Wednesday.

They then went to Wakari, where she was prescribed drugs and sent away.

Her behaviour became more erratic and they took her back to emergency psychiatric services at 5pm — but she was not seen by a doctor until after midnight.

"He said we could take her back to my house for the night and keep a watch on her, and I said that wasn’t really very fair as we would have to tag-team suicide-watch her all night, which is a pretty big job to ask someone to do," Ms A said.

"We decided with her permission and with the doctor’s advice, that she would stay on the couch at EPS [emergency psychiatric services] for the night ...  They said that there weren’t enough beds at Wakari, and they also said that she couldn’t be admitted under section 8a [of the Mental Health Act] because she had a personality disorder and not a mental illness and so they couldn’t ensure that she stayed there."

Ms A left, but got a message at 2.50am that her friend had left EPS.

Deeply concerned, Ms A went to check on her friend, which was when the confrontation took place.

"It was terrifying ...  Thankfully, another friend came in and was able to get the sword off her, and then the police came," Ms A said.

Mrs Taylor said early intervention in mental health cases was always the best policy.

"She reached out for help twice ... If she had been admitted to Wakari and got good care, this never would have happened," she  said.

Earlier this year the ODT asked the Southern District Health Board for statistics on how many people were turned away from emergency psychiatric care.

The SDHB responded that those statistics were not kept, but  any patient who presented requiring care would be treated.

An accompanying Official Information Act request showed ward 1 at Wakari Hospital had been full for 148 nights during 2017, while ward 2 had been full for 203 days. The forensic ward was full for 48 nights and the intensive care ward for 88 nights.

SDHB mental health general manager Louise Travers said the service was experiencing an increase in demand.

"People presenting to EPS are assessed and triaged, as they would in the emergency department," she said.

"Unfortunately the increased number of people coming to EPS  has meant that some people have had to wait longer than usual and we are sorry if this delay has increased distress for people.

"When people are assessed as needing admission this has been facilitated by our dedicated team."

The SDHB would be happy to speak with people who felt they had experienced difficulty accessing services and encouraged them to contact it, Ms Travers said.

— Additional reporting by Rob Kidd


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