Government apologizes, settles with woman who received 200 shock treatments.

April 30, 2012

Former psychiatric patients who have been offered payouts by the Crown Health Financing Agency have until the end of the month to accept the offer.

Three hundred and thirty six former psychiatric patients have been offered compensation over their treatment and will have to decide if they will fight the offer through the courts.

A Christchurch woman who was wrongly diagnosed as schizophrenic and given 200 bouts of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is one of the patients who received a formal apology letter and was offered compensation.

Joan Bellingham, 59, told TVNZ's Close Up programme she is "over the moon" that she has finally won her battle after years of fighting Princess Margaret Hospital in Cashmere and the Government.

The Crown Health Financing Agency (CHFA) admitted that Bellingham was wrongly labelled a drug user, an alcoholic and a schizophrenic.

She said the apology and the acknowledgement that they were wrong "means the world" to her.

However, her long-time GP Dr Michael Glen said while the apology was important the payout was a slap in the face.

"I think if you're going to give money it's got to be appropriate money. How do you compensate somebody for their life? I think it was paltry and I think it was almost demeaning," Glen said.

CHFA chief executive Graeme Bell told TVNZ's Close Up programme that the payments cannot be disclosed but are in the thousands, not the tens of thousands.

"Most people are taking the money and as of last Tuesday of our 336 claimants 306 had accepted our offer."

"We have had a number of people respond in writing as to how grateful they were for the apology letter it has brought closure for a number of people."

He said 24 letters had been returned to the organisation as former patients had moved. But the organisation has since tracked them down and extended the offer to those people until May 27.

He said CHFA have already been to court over two cases and won.

Bellingham a 'guinea pig'

Bellingham was 17 and training to be a nurse when she was sent to the hospital.

She claimed she was bullied by one of her tutors, who has since died, because she was gay.

"I've always been very open about my sexuality and I had one tutor that knew that I was gay and made my life very hard for me.

"And then I was told I was being taken to Princess Margaret Hospital because of my social behaviour you know there was something seriously wrong."

Her tutor drove her to Princess Margaret Hospital, where she was committed and diagnosed with "neurotic personality disorder".

"I wasn't happy with the way I was being treated. Little did I know what would happen in years to come."

Between 1970 and 1982 Bellingham was in and out of hospital. She received ECT treatments and was always kept highly medicated.

"At first they said that my sexuality was due to my personality disorder and as the years went on the more drugs I was given and the more shock treatment I was given I was labelled a schizophrenic."

The diagnosis was maintained from 1973 to 1982.

Bellingham said she felt "indescribable pain" when she received shock treatment and still has scars from the burns to her head.

"I thought I'm going to die."

She said her brain felt like jelly and it became harder to remember things.

"I lost the will to live really I was becoming less of a human being and more of a vegetable."

Bellingham said she was medicated so highly that she struggled to function in society.

"If you saw the list of drugs I was on you would know I was a guinea pig."

She said her parents were often surprised and concerned about her treatment but did not think to question doctors.

However, in 1984 Bellingham fought back. After finding a partner she began to refuse treatment and weaned herself off the drugs.

She said her life was stolen away from her.

"I believe I would have been a good nurse and I believe life would have been very different."

Source: "Payout for woman shocked and drugged 'demeaning' - GP," TVNZ One News, April 27, 2012 


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