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Former Staff Member Joins Abuse Complaints Against Psychiatric Facility
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
June 17, 2004

NELSON, NEW ZEALAND--Four patients of the former Ngawhatu Psychiatric Hospital have come forward to issue formal complaints against the government claiming that they were sexually and physically abused by staff members, and were punished with electric shock treatments -- sometimes several times a day.

Attorney Roger Chapman told the Nelson Mail that complaints have also been filed by a man whose wife was a patient at Ngawhatu in the 1950s, along with a former staff member whose sister was a patient.

Chapman said that the staff member, a former nurse's aide, gave his office a medical journal and other information about treatments at the hospital. While he would not give details, the Wellington attorney said the woman alleges that patients were subjected to experimentation on electroshock therapy (ECT), a controversial treatment that was later discredited except in very specific cases.

"She is certainly saying that there was a certain amount of experimentation on patients, giving them substantial amounts of electric shock therapy," Chapman said. "There is also talk of some patients being given an electrical leucotomy. We are still getting details about that but it doesn't sound great."

A leucotomy, known in the U.S. and other places as a lobotomy, is a surgical operation on the frontal lobes of the brain intended to treat some mental illnesses that were not affected by medication.

The cases are part of a "steady number" of complaints -- more than 200 so far -- that have been filed recently by former patients of psychiatric institutions across New Zealand. Most of the complaints concern incidents that allegedly occurred during the 1960s and 1970s by patients who were then between 8 and 16 years of age.

Nearly 70 legal claims have been filed so far in the High Court, each asking for up to $500,000 in compensation and up to $50,000 in exemplary damages, the New Zealand Herald reported. Another 40 cases are close to being filed.

Until recently officials had believed the abuses were confined to two former institutions. As more claimants came forward in the past few weeks, nearly all of the country's psychiatric hospitals had been implicated.

Most of the facilities either are closed or no longer operate as mental institutions. Ngawhatu Psychiatric Hospital was closed in 2000-2001 and its residents moved into the Nelson community.

The claims by one former patient of Kingseat Hospital, south of Auckland, have prompted Manukau police to reopen their investigation into the 1968 death of 11-year-old Clement Matthews. A coroner had ruled that the boy died from pneumonia. Stephen Lindsay, who was 14 at the time has reported that he witnessed Matthews being beaten and kicked a few hours before he was found dying in his locked room.

On Monday, Prime Minister Helen Clark said the Government is looking into the possibility of dealing with the complaints through mediation, but that more time is needed to gather information before deciding on what approach to take.


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