New film explores restorative approach to healthcare harm

Researchers from Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington’s Diana Unwin Chair in Restorative Justice have contributed to a new film that explores how a restorative approach can promote healing and learning following an episode of healthcare harm.

Pou hihiri, Pou o te aroha | Healing and learning from harm features consumers, clinicians, researchers, and those responsible for responding to healthcare harm discussing the benefits of a restorative approach. The film includes people involved in the surgical mesh project, which was the first time this approach had been used in healthcare on such a large scale.

In a restorative process the people affected by a harmful event come together in a safe, supportive environment to talk openly about what has happened, and the impact it has had on their lives, before deciding together on the actions that will best restore wellbeing, relationships, and trust, and prevent further harm. Values such as respectful listening and communication, truthfulness, accountability, empowerment, and equal concern are central to the approach.

Jo Wailling, who leads the health work at the Diana Unwin Chair, also known as the Centre for restorative theory and practice (the Centre), says that although current investigative approaches are well intentioned, they can be lengthy and focus on letter writing and expert opinion. This approach keeps people apart and can compound the experience of harm.

“We can heal from a harmful event when we are able to restore our wellbeing, relationships, and trust. A restorative approach is fundamentally relational in nature and offers the opportunity for healing, alongside learning from harm.

“When harms and needs are communicated through storytelling, compassionate hearing motivates people to take action for repair and prevention in ways that punitive sanctions do not.”

The film also explores hohou te rongopai (peace-making from a te ao Māori world view), which strongly influences the Aotearoa New Zealand restorative approach. Graham Bidois Cameron, research fellow at the Centre and pou tikanga at Bay of Plenty District Health Board, says the current investigative approach does not work for Māori.

“A houhou te rongopai approach is about the restoration of mana and wellbeing, through whānaungatanga. It connects people, and provides a pathway for resolving complaints and adverse events, consistent with a Māori understanding of wellbeing.”

The film was developed in consultation with several health sector and Māori partners, and funded by the Centre, the Health Quality & Safety Commission (HQSC), and ACC.

The film, Jo says, is just one aspect of the work the Centre is carrying out with the healthcare sector to collaboratively design and deliver a restorative approach to harmful events in healthcare.

“This film is the beginning of a journey towards a more restorative health system. We hope that this film will inspire people to look at healthcare harm through a different lens, and think about responding to it in a way that understands the human impacts.”