Mental health units and emergency departments across New South Wales will have 24-hour supervision under a government plan to improve psychiatric care and address damning findings of a review into the sector.
- NSW Government ordered an inquiry last year after the death of a woman at Lismore Base Hospital
- Footage emerged of Miriam Meron naked, wandering the corridors covered in faeces
- She died of a brain injury after repeatedly falling and hitting her head
Tougher targets, mandatory public reporting of seclusion and restraint rates and further training of front-line staff will also be introduced as part of the Government’s response.
The State Government ordered an inquiry into the use of seclusion and restraints last year after shocking details about the death of Lismore woman Miriam Merton were made public.
Ms Merten died in 2014 from a brain injury after falling and hitting her head more than 20 times at the Mental Health Unit of Lismore Base Hospital, on the state’s north coast.
Minister for Mental Health Tanya Davies said improving culture and leadership in mental health units was the Government’s highest priority.
“Mental health has for so long played second fiddle to mainstream health services and we are going to change that,” Ms Davies said.
“We are absolutely committed to ensuring people within our mental health units receive exactly the same compassionate treatment and respectful treatment as every other patient in our health system.”
Under the plan, all mental health inpatient services must have “24/7 on-site supervision from account able managerial staff, including in-person supervision visits to units on every shift”.
Health facilities will be required to reduce seclusion to fewer than 5.1 episodes per 1,000 occupied bed days – an “ambitious but reachable” 25 per cent reduction from the current indicator range of 6.8 episodes according to NSW Health.
The average duration of time in seclusion must also be less than four hours.
Footage was ‘Don Dale moment’
The 2017 review by chief psychiatrist Dr Murray Wright found that in the 2016-2017 financial year patients were placed in seclusion in mental health units in NSW almost 3,700 times, for an average of 5.5 hours.
The rooms were sometimes “unhygienic”, not properly cleaned and lacking in fresh air and access to bathrooms.
Ms Davies said the plan included 27 actions to address all 19 recommendations, and local health districts have until July 2019 to implement the changes.
But Labor spokeswoman for Mental health Tania Mihailuk said without sufficient funding the plan would fail.
“The Miriam Merten footage last year was a real Don Dale moment for New South Wales,” Ms Mihailuk said.
“This is a government that’s prepared to put $2.2 billion towards two stadiums in Sydney but only spread $20 million for 41 mental health units across New South Wales.
“Without proper funding and resourcing this plan, like any other plan, will end up being a colossal failure,” she said.
In 2017, the Government committed an initial $20 million to improve the therapeutic environment inside acute mental health units.