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New Zealander's death puts mental patients' restraint in Japan under spotlight

TOKYO (Reuters) - A Japanese campaign group whose members include lawyers and academics called on Wednesday for a change in psychiatric hospitals' practice of putting patients under prolonged restraint after the death of a New Zealand man.

Kelly Savage, 27-year-old English teacher working in Japan, was sent to a psychiatric hospital near Tokyo on April 30 after showing signs of losing touch with reality such as screaming and running around, his older brother Pat Savage said.

Pat, who was with his brother when Kelly was hospitalized, said he was strapped to the bed by the legs, wrists and waist although he had calmed down. He was under restraint for most of the time until a nurse found him in a state of cardiac arrest 10 days later. He died at another hospital on May 17.

The autopsy result was inconclusive, but a doctor at the second hospital said there was a possibility that the extended physical restraint led to cardiac arrest, Pat said.

An official at the first medical institution, Yamato Hospital, declined to comment on the case.

"We thought the restraint was inhumane and unnecessary in Kelly's case, but we had no idea it could cause Kelly's cardiac arrest," Pat Savage told a Tokyo news conference.

He said he was not considering taking legal action against the hospital, but the campaigners nonetheless urged a change in practice.

The number of hospitalized psychiatric patients that are put under physical restraint in Japan totaled 10,682 as of June 30, 2014, the latest date for which data is available, a twofold rise from a decade ago, according to the Health Ministry.

During the same period, the number of overall hospitalized psychiatric patients fell 11 percent to 290,406.

Among those who are put under restraint, the duration of restraint averaged 96 days, Toshio Hasegawa, professor at Kyorin University told the same news conference.

This compares with several hours to several tens of hours in many other countries, said Hasegawa, who on Wednesday launched the group of psychiatric patients as well as professors and lawyers to raise awareness of such restraint and reduce the practice.

"What I would like to ask you first is to think about the feelings of those who are dying while under physical restraint," Hasegawa said.

(Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka; Editing by Alison Williams)