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Access to nature reduces depression and obesity, finds European study

Trees and green spaces are unrecognised healers offering benefits from increases in mental wellbeing to allergy reductions, says report.

People living close to trees and green spaces are less likely to be obese, inactive, or dependent on anti-depressants, according to a new report.

Middle-aged Scottish men with homes in deprived but verdant areas were found to have a death rate 16% lower than their more urban counterparts. Pregnant women also received a health boost from a greener environment, recording lower blood pressures and giving birth to larger babies, research in Bradford found.

Court of Appeal Upholds DHB's Smoking Ban

Last week the Court of Appeal dismissed a challenge to Waitemata District Health Board's (WDHB's) smoke-free policy.  The policy prohibits smoking on any WDHB premises, including in mental health intensive care units (MHICUs) where patients are unable to leave the premises and smoke off-site.
The policy was challenged by a former psychiatric patient who argued that the policy was unlawful as it was inconsistent with the New Zealand Public Health and Disability Act, and that it breached his (and other patients') rights under the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act (NZBORA).
The Court of Appeal disagreed, finding that the total smoking ban imposed by WDHB on all hospital sites was lawful, represented a reasonable response to a pressing social need to reduce the incidence of smoking and second-hand smoke, and was consistent with the requirements of good medical practice.  It also found that the policy did not breach the rights and freedoms provided for in the NZBORA. Read Update.

The Problem Gambling Appeal - the Court of Appeal's turn

2016 will see the Ministry of Health challenge the High Court's ruling against the Ministry's decision in respect of its procurement of problem gambling services. The Ministry filed a Notice of Appeal in the Court of Appeal in August last year, following the Problem Gambling Foundation's successful judicial review of the Ministry's decision to award the major problem gambling services contracts to providers other than the Foundation.  The case is important because it demonstrates that the courts will enforce the Government Rules of Sourcing and any rules that are contained in an agency's Request for Proposal document.  If a government agency fails to comply with the requirements set out in the Rules of Sourcing and its own procurement documents, it runs the risk of its procurement decisions being successfully judicially reviewed.  For further coverage of the High Court decision see our legal update.

Better protection of our vulnerable children

The various changes and initiatives introduced by the Children's Action Plan and the Vulnerable Children Act will continue to be phased in during 2016.  For many health and disability providers, the most significant change is the new requirement to carry out safety checks on staff who work with children.  The requirement to safety check new "core children's workers" came into force in July last year and the requirement will extend to encompass all new "children's workers" in July this year.

Changes to the Coroners Act - a new and improved system

Following an extensive review process, the Coroners Amendment Bill has now had its second reading and is due to come into force in July 2016.  The proposed changes are wide ranging, but from a health provider perspective, a key change will be the new qualification on the requirement to notify when a death occurs while a patient is undergoing medical or surgical treatment.  Under the amended Act, notification will only be required when the death is also "medically unexpected".  Other significant changes include reduced restrictions on suicide reporting, requirements for organisations to provide written responses to Coroner's recommendations (see the supplementary order papers), and a new ability to direct a preliminary (non-invasive) inspection of a body before a full post mortem. 

Fifty years in the making - a new compulsory treatment regime for substance addiction

Following a Law Commission Report and extensive consultation, the new Substance Addiction (Compulsory Assessment and Treatment) Bill was introduced into Parliament in December 2015.  The Bill is intended to replace the Alcohol and Drug Addiction Act 1966 and provides a new regime for the compulsory assessment and treatment of people with substance addiction.  Notably, in order to impose compulsory treatment under the Bill a person must not only be considered to have "severe substance addiction" but their capacity to make informed decisions about treatment must also be "severely impaired".  The Bill also expressly recognises that compulsory treatment must be a last resort, only to be used when voluntary treatment is unlikely to be effective.  Indications are that the Bill will proceed through its first reading and on to Select Committee in early 2016.

Vitamin D status linked to severity of schizophrenia

Recent research shows that schizophrenia is caused by a neurodevelopmental defect that disrupts early brain formation. Vitamin D possesses neuroprotective properties, with some research indicating that healthy vitamin D levels may be an essential component for healthy neural development and function. Due to the presence of vitamin D receptors and the enzyme required to activate vitamin D (1-alpha hydroxylase) in the brain, researchers hypothesize that vitamin D may work locally in the brain to influence proper development.

The research on this topic has only just begun. Current research indicates that low vitamin D levels during the prenatal period and early childhood are significantly linked to schizophrenia. One small study found vitamin D status is significantly associated with schizophrenia. Since the study consisted of such a small sample size, researchers wanted to know if they could replicate these results in a larger sample, further illustrating the potential role of vitamin D in schizophrenia.