National / Social Issues

Citizens group calls for review on use of restraints after New Zealand teacher’s death

by Tomoko Otake

Staff Writer

A health scholar and the family of an English teacher from New Zealand who died after being tied to his hospital bed for 10 days announced Wednesday the establishment of a group that will push for a review on the use of physical restraints at psychiatric hospitals.

The group, Seishinka Iryo no Shintai Kosoku wo Kangaeru Kai, which can be translated as “A group to review restraints at psychiatric hospitals,” is headed by Toshio Hasegawa, professor of health sciences at Kyorin University in Tokyo who has researched human rights abuses relating to the strapping down of patients at psychiatric hospitals across the country.

The group’s establishment was spurred by the May 17 death of Kelly Savage, a 27-year-old JET teacher who lived in Kagoshima Prefecture. On May 10, he had a heart attack at Yamato Hospital in Yamato, Kanagawa Prefecture, where he had been hospitalized for 10 days after suffering a manic episode linked to bipolar disorder while visiting his brother.

The Savage family suspects that the use of restraints at the hospital in which he was tied to his bed at the waist, wrists and ankles during most of the 10-day stay at the facility led to the formation of deep vein thrombosis in his leg and caused a fatal heart attack.

Hasegawa told a news conference in Tokyo that the group will call on other victims who have had restraints used on them to come forward with their stories, as well as their family members, to grasp a full picture of what is happening across the country.

Currently, it is hard to know exactly what is going on in the locked rooms of psychiatric wards because government statistics on the use of restraints are not comprehensive enough and hospitals often do not cooperate and disclose medical records to families of restrained people who have died, Hasegawa said.

Martha Savage, Kelly’s mother, said that, when she first heard that he was in restraints, she was “completely shocked.”

“I felt like I was watching some kind of movie from the Middle Ages,” she said. “I couldn’t think people do that kind of thing now — somebody tying them to the bed.”

The use of restraints is increasing at the nation’s psychiatric hospitals, where they are often considered a necessary tool for caregivers.

Health ministry statistics show that the number of restrained patients doubled over the past decade to 10,682 in fiscal 2014. Hasegawa’s research of 11 psychiatric hospitals in 2015 also found that 245 patients were restrained for 96.2 days on average.

The group will also collect signatures both in and outside Japan to ask hospitals to stop the excessive use of restraints and will submit them to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and other key government officials, Hasegawa said.

The group’s campaigners include former Miyagi Gov. Shiro Asano, former Chiba Gov. Akiko Domoto, sociologist Shinya Tateiwa, Martha Savage as well as some lawyers and groups of people with mental disabilities.