| 14.08,18. 06:30 PM |
Call for inquiry after man with Down syndrome dies outside hospital
Photo: The Byron Central Hospital. (Bruce MacKenzie - ABC North Coast.)
Kelvin James Forrest, 53, was a patient at the hospital when he died on July 28.
The State Opposition and the Health Services Union have claimed Mr Forrest died of hypothermia after he left the facility through an unlocked door.
Weather records show the overnight temperatures on that weekend dropped to between nine and 10 degrees.
Prolonged exposure to those conditions can lead to hypothermia.
But New South Wales Health said the man's family had written to thank staff for their care.
The Northern New South Wales Local Health District said the case had been referred to the state coroner, and an internal investigation was also underway.
Chief executive Wayne Jones said the health department was providing full disclosure to the family regarding the circumstances surrounding the death.
"Quality care was provided to this gentleman," he said.
Man was not a mental health patient
Mr Jones said the man had never been a patient of the hospital's sub-acute mental health unit, and there were no mental health patients in the general inpatient unit at the time of his death.
"He was a patient at the hospital — he was not under any detainment order," Mr Jones said.
"He was there purely being cared for while we were waiting for support services to be organised at home.
"We extend our deepest sympathies and continue to offer support to the family and the staff."
Mr Jones said the district would continue to work with all authorities to understand how the death had occurred.
"There was no special situation for this gentleman," he said.
"There are security services and support systems put in all our facilities to ensure patients and staff are secure."
NSW Opposition demands inquiry
Labor's health spokesman Walt Secord said he would be calling for an independent, external inquiry into the matter.
"This is a major, a brand new hospital, and there are serious questions to be answered," he said.
"I want to treat this seriously, and we need to get to the bottom of how this happened.
"He was under one-to-one supervision in the hospital and it's been a tragedy.
"He disappeared and he was found by a security guard and the incident has ended in tragedy."
Mr Secord said Mr Forrest had died hypothermia some time after he was found and was brought back into the hospital.
"I have a concern that it could be related to resources and capacity within the Northern NSW Local Health District," he said.
Patient care investigated after woman's death
NSW Health has told the ABC the Byron Central Hospital is staffed according to industrial award requirements.
It is not the first time that patient care in the region has become the subject of an investigation.
Last year a coronial inquiry was held into the death of Miriam Merten, who died in the mental health unit of the nearby Lismore Base Hospital in 2014.
She died from a brain injury after falling over more than 20 times.
A coronial inquest heard she was locked in a seclusion room for hours, and when the two nurses supervising her unlocked the door they allowed her to wander around the area naked and covered in faeces.
The issue led to the establishment of two separate parliamentary inquiries into the treatment of mentally ill patients in the state.