MIQ complaints to ombudsman soar

Complaints about managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) facilities have surged in the past six weeks, says the Chief Ombudsman, Peter Boshier.

“I have received unprecedented numbers of complaints about the MIQs, with many people complaining about the booking system,” says Boshier. “People have been complaining to me about border exemption decisions and MIQs since these were set up.”

The Chief Ombudsman has received more than 700 MIQ and border related complaints since 1 July 2020.

“Since mid-June, I have seen a new type of complaint emerge – people who are missing out on getting a space in an MIQ – and the number of upset people is increasing. In the past six weeks, I have received 67 complaints on this issue alone, with more being received daily.

“The sheer number complaints indicate a growing frustration with the MIQ booking system,” says Mr Boshier. “I am keen to get to the bottom of this.”

He has met with the CEO of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) to alert her to the complaints he has been receiving and to seek further information.

“I want to make sure those returning to New Zealand are being treated fairly. I am now considering my options, including whether to do a broader independent review of the issue. In the meantime, my consideration of individual complaints will continue,” says Boshier.

New advice on how the Ombudsman can assist people wanting to complain about an MIQ is available on his website.

Boshier is also conducting independent inspections of MIQ facilities under the United Nations Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT).

“I established this inspection programme to provide the public and Parliament assurance that the basic human rights of people isolated for health reasons are being respected.”

Today he has released a thematic report covering his first six inspections conducted in the Auckland and Rotorua regions late last year.

“This report summarises what I observed during the early days of MIQs. They were being set up quickly. Throughout the COVID-19 crisis, managers and staff have needed to continuously adapt to a fast changing COVID environment.”

All 27 recommendations made to the six facilities were accepted by MBIE, with MBIE noting the value of the inspections to support ongoing improvements.

“I am encouraged to learn that these recommendations have either been implemented or the work is underway.”

However, Boshier remains concerned about the impact of frequently rotating staff on the management of the facilities. “I want to be assured returnees get consistent care and they won’t get this if facility managers are changing every six weeks.”

He has also asked MBIE to keep him informed about the care of unaccompanied minors.

“Staff told my inspectors some children and young people were presenting with complex medical and psychosocial needs that staff felt ill-equipped to deal with.”

He will be looking to ensure that the individual facilities have formal complaints systems in place.

“I will continue to monitor these facilities and I’ll be conducting follow up inspections to make sure changes are implemented.”

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Notes

New Zealand ratified the United Nations’ Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT) in 2007. The Protocol requires States to establish independent National Preventive Mechanisms (NPMs) to regularly inspect places of detention and report on the treatment and conditions of those held within them.

The Chief Ombudsman was originally designated as a National Preventive Mechanism under OPCAT in 2009 which means he monitors places of detention designated to him, such as health and disability facilities including MIQs, to prevent torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

He can recommend practical improvements to address any risks, poor practices, or systemic problems that could result in a service-user being treated badly. Follow-up inspections are conducted to look for progress in implementing previous recommendations. Reports are written on what is observed at the time of inspection.

Mr Boshier set up his OPCAT MIQ inspection programme last year and inspections started in October 2020. He intends to continue undertaking these inspections in future. This is his first published thematic MIQ report. The Chief Ombudsman has chosen to publish this MIQ thematic report as a summary of the observations and recommendations made in his first six individual MIQ facility reports, rather than publishing each of the facility reports.

More about monitoring COVID-19 managed isolation and quarantine facilities is available on his website.

The Chief Ombudsman also considers complaints from people about how they have been treated by government agencies, under the Ombudsmen Act 1975. The Chief Ombudsman regularly publishes summaries of the results of his complaint investigations, for example these MIQ-related case notes: Decisions to decline MIQ medical needs exemptions were not unreasonable (21 June 2021) and Consultation on health and safety plans for Managed Isolation Facility (13 October 2020)

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