This month we speak to CCHR researcher Victor Boyd on the Lake Alice abuses. He speaks about the ongoing issues effecting the case and gives us a update on the UN report.
Q. How and when did you get involved with the Lake Alice abuses?
A. I was living and working in Wanganui, my home town, which was a 25 minute car drive from the Hospital. I was 26 years old in 1977 when the first story broke about the 13 year old Niuean boy who’s parents had made a complaint about the ECT he had been receiving. Another young boy of about 18 who was working in the same place I was had been in Lake Alice there about two years previously and he told me a few things that went on that the staff had done to the child patients. I started to ask more questions of other people. Because I wasn’t in it for any money it was surprising who spoke to me and what information I got.
Q. The Citizens Commission on Human Rights has been campaigning for a long time about the abuses at the Lake Alice Child and Adolescent Unit, there have been the payouts, what should happen now?
A. Firstly, there are people who have said to us who don’t think electric shocking little kids on their body parts as punishment should just be left alone. In 2001 The Royal College of Australia and New Zealand Psychiatrists wanted to see a proper inquiry done into it with findings. Since then some former staff have also spoken out about what happened.
Secondly, the Government has told former patients that what happened to them was wrong, but the former staff have not been told what they did was wrong. Unless this happens it signals that the conduct of the staff at Lake Alice was condoned by the Medical and Nursing Council’s, and Psychologist’s Board, which are statutory authorities. A Psychiatrist I spoke with a year ago about Lake Alice thinks that any scrutiny or criticism concerned with the diagnosing of healthy children, labelling them with a with a mental illness and administering painful electric shocks from an ECT machine on their body parts for punishment, is just ridiculing the Psychiatric profession. Yet the Government has just said in the report to the United Nations Committee Against Torture the events like that at Lake Alice were systemic abuse of children.
Q. We have a Patients Bill of Rights and a new Mental Health Act, what do you make of the changes?
A. Yes. Mainly for adults. But what about a young 9 year old being expected to understand about a full patients rights and complaints protocol? That’s unrealistic.
Look at what the Ombudsman investigated just last year; A case where a patient had been kept in constant restraint and seclusion for 6 years. A young intellectually disabled patient kept in ‘seclusion’ for a lengthy period, and a patient, ‘treated for some years without any apparent consent of any kind.’ It’s still going on despite a new mental health act. Just as important to everything else here, it appears that laws have to be passed to bring about safety and protection for patients against abuses by mental health staff. What about the statutory authorities properly investigating allegations with findings and proclaiming necessary changes? And these statutory authorities want to be self regulating organisations. It is appalling.
Q. Hasn’t shock treatment on children stopped?
A. Like the electric shocks as punishment for behaviour at Lake Alice? It appears so for now, in New Zealand. There are stories overseas where it is coming back; electric shocks for punishment. At Lake Alice after investigating just one case in 1977 to do with a young boy the Ombudsman made a strong suggestion that legislation be enacted to prohibit children receiving ECT unmodified. This has not come about and has been only superficially looked at. Psychiatry wants to have all the ease and credibility of making unscientific diagnosis,’ drugging, shocking, and injecting children, in the back pocket ready for use.
Q. Diagnosis and drugging (or medication, as it is nicely referred to?)
A. There is another big issue that was at Lake Alice and is still going on today. There were children put in Lake Alice who were perfectly healthy. They may have had behavioural difficulties/issues. (This is also covered in the report on the events at Lake Alice by Sir Rodney Gallen, a retired High Court Judge who interviewed 41 and read the statements of a further 44 former Lake Alice victims.) But you could say that about many people, Some would say Politicians at times have behavioural issues. Does it mean then that they should be given an immediate mental health assessment, diagnosed with a mental illness, treatment, and the information going on a data base? They would probably bring the lawyers in. Children don’t have these defences. Healthy young children were given a diagnosis and then treated. In the Statement of Claim for the first group of fifty six former LA patients in the 2001 civil action, included the claims; “No medical grounds established for admission to or for remaining at Lake Alice Hospital Incorrect or no proper diagnosis. No consent obtained from plaintiff and/or parents or guardians for treatment and/or medication or if obtained, not freely given, or fully informed.”These would be part of the question, ‘How come the kids were there in the first place?’ and form a strong basis of how the abuses came about. Remember in the year 2000 when the Crown Law considered the claims there were medical experts involved. (their fees were $39,934.) And then decided not defend the claims. The Government is in 2010 saying to the United Nations that the claims were clearly and factually established.
It’s very important. Children can be labelled for life. What happens later on, when little Johnny says he, ‘has thoughts of harming people, you put me on these drugs.’ Drug companies are now being sued for millions over their product.
Q. The payouts from the Government?
A. In around 2000, the Government spent $.5 million, including almost $40,000 on the medical experts trying to defend the claims. Several years later, the payouts began. The Government settled out of court with a general apology but without admitting any legal liability. The latest figures for 2010 are that $12.7 million have been paid out to 192 former victims of the abuses. If you’re a former mental health worker this is good. Salaries and wages were paid while abuses were committed against children. The complaints and concerns at the time were largely ignored or brushed off. Then they were bailed out of trouble by the taxpayer with the millions in payouts. A double whammy.
If you are a former victim having been on the receiving end of the abuses it isn’t so good. No one was held to account for what happened to them.
Q. What about the Australian investigation in 2006 regarding Dr Leeks?
A. In 2001 the Royal College of Australia and New Zealand Psychiatrists (RANZCP) issued a media statement calling for a successfully completed investigation into the conduct of the doctor who was in charge, They said, “This is the only way we will ever achieve a satisfactory resolution to this matter; for the former ‘patients’ first and foremost, but also for the doctor concerned and for the profession.” This hasn’t happened. We have recently asked them about this and they are avoiding the issue. The Medical Practitioners Board of Victoria investigated a number of complaints against the doctor from around twenty former patients.
After a four year investigation and obtaining an independent opinion from an esteemed professor of Child Psychiatry, in 2006 the Board compiled 40 charges/allegations against the doctor for a Formal Hearing of engaging in infamous conduct in a professional respect. The doctor resigned and the Board has directly violated its stated role of protecting the public by hearing and determining allegations when it accepted the doctor’s resignation without the Hearing taking place. The patients who complained cannot get documents about their complaint to see whether an independent medical opinion, corroborated or refuted their allegations.
Q. What is happening about the complaint to the United Nations Committee Against Torture?
A. In 2009 the UN Committee Against Torture did it’s Periodic Review of New Zealand’s obligations to the UN. One of the recommendations to the NZ Government involved how cases of historic abuse (ill-treatment/torture) of children in psychiatric hospitals were being handled. The United Nations requested the Government to provide a response within a year, which it did.Committee Recommendation 11. (This has to do with cases of historic abuses in psychiatric hospitals.)
(Attention is drawn to sections of the Government’s response/report which are about the Lake Alice abuses.)
“New Zealand Response.
The Government is committed to the investigation and resolution of allegations of torture or ill-treatment by the state.”
“ All affected agencies have commissioned research, as well as looking at individual claims, in order to satisfy themselves that there is no evidence of systemic failure as there was with the Lake Alice Psychiatric hospital claims.”
“…The Government was able to reach a view that the claimants’ personal statements and the medical records demonstrated that there had been improper treatment.”
“There are two key differences between the current psychiatric hospital claims and the Lake Alice claims which explain the different approach taken by the Government in addressing them. Firstly, the Lake Alice claimants’ allegations were factually clearly established.In the current claims, the factual allegations are generally contested. Second, the Lake Alice claimants’ allegations were substantially the same in that they related to treatment conditions in the child and Adolescent ward at Lake Alice, during the period 1972-1977 under the care of one particular doctor.”
The first part of the CCHR submission on this has been sent to the UN. The former patients have been told what happened to them at Lake Alice was wrong. The former staff have not been told what they did was wrong. The Government have made a general apology. There has been redress. There needs to be professional accountability now. In around October 2010 the United Nations then considers the responses it has received from the NZ Government and the NGO’s, (Non Government organisations.) Then we must await their reply.
If you would like to speak with Mr Boyd check out our contact page!
Lake Alice Blog