Human Rights Review Tribunal, HRRT 024/2013, NZHRRT3 (3 October 2013)
On 13 September 2013 the Director of Proceedings filed a claim against Northlink Health for breaches of the Code concerning a disability services consumer. The claim was able to proceed by agreement and compensation for the consumer (Mr B) and costs were resolved between the parties by negotiated agreement.
The claim concerned a disability services consumer who has severe cerebral palsy. Mr B requires assistance with all personal cares, uses a wheelchair, and communicates using a computer with a head pointer. He is a fiercely independent person who has fought hard to live as independently as possible, and to choose his own lifestyle. Nevertheless, his condition renders him a particularly vulnerable consumer.
Northlink Health provided disability support services to Mr B for three years between 2005 and 2008. Throughout this time Mrs Z acted as, and was widely known as, the agent for Mr B's care. Mrs Z had direct responsibility for the staff working with Mr B, although ultimate responsibility for the supervision and quality of the care provided remained with Northlink Health. Mr E was employed at Mrs Z's recommendation to provide 63 hours of care to Mr B over a seven day working week. Mr E was a relative of Mrs Z and was later joined by two other members of Mrs Z's family who were also employed by Northlink to provide care to Mr B.
Unfortunately the care provided to Mr B was seriously substandard. Mr B was left unattended for extended periods, provided with inadequate meals, and neglected, even while he was ill and his mobility had become greatly reduced. Management of his pain, bowel and urinary problems was not satisfactory. Mr B's half-brother, Mr A, noted the substandard care being provided and made a complaint to Northlink Health in September 2007. Northlink Health conducted a review in December 2007, however the review was conducted in Mrs Z's presence. No further review was scheduled until December 2008. Almost a year later in June 2008, following further complaints from various parties, Northlink Health again reviewed Mr B's situation, which led to changes in service provision.
Prior to this time Northlink Health had accepted Mrs Z's assurances that Mr B was satisfied with the care he was receiving. Northlink Health was aware that Mr B was vulnerable and that he was in a close relationship with Mrs Z, nevertheless it allowed the carer's timesheets to be countersigned by Mrs Z with a mark 'X' apparently made by Mr B. All communication with Mr B was via Mrs Z. Her statements were uncritically accepted. As the service provider, Northlink Health had a duty to ensure Mr B was provided with an appropriate standard of care, however Mr B was left unmonitored for approximately two years without even an initial assessment or support plan being completed. Northlink Health simply took Mrs Z's word that Mr B was satisfied with his current arrangements and did not want any changes. This, despite Northlink Health having had concerns that Mr B's allocated 63 hours were being worked by more than one carer.
By failing to provide appropriate monitoring and supervision and oversight of the care provided to Mr B, Northlink Health failed to provide Mr B with services of reasonable care and skill and breached Right 4(1) of the Code of Health and Disability Services Consumers' Rights. Northlink Health also failed to have in place appropriate policies and procedures for ensuring adequate monitoring and supervision of services.
As a result of this case Northlink Health made a number of changes to its service. It implemented new policies and procedures to ensure a similar situation never occurs again.
The Tribunal's decision can be found at: http://www.nzlii.org/cgi-bin/download.cgi/cgi-bin/download.cgi/download/nz/cases/NZHRRT/2013/35.pdf
Last reviewed February 2019