Suicides, self-harm, violence in mental health
"We must do better" - Public Advocate
This is a key finding of Community Visitors in their Annual Report 2016-2017, tabled in State Parliament today.
Public Advocate and Community Visitor Chair, Colleen Pearce, said the volunteers called on the State Government and hospitals to ensure absolute vigilance to protect patients.
"We must do better than this," Ms Pearce said. "It's completely unacceptable for patients to be dying in our mental health facilities."
"The Visitors want more and better assessments of patient risk, observations by staff and checks around facilities to help ensure these tragedies don't happen."
"Consumers, and their families and carers, expect that, when patients attend hospital for mental health treatment, first and foremost, they will be safe."
Patient self-harm within facilities was also reported. In one incident, a patient set fire to herself. At another service, there were 15 self-harm events in two months.
Abuse, threats and physical assaults, witnessed by staff and patients, are also a key focus of this year's report into mental health services.
Objects such as cutlery, tables, broken glass and a smashed toilet seat were used as weapons against staff. Illicit drug use appears to a major contributing factor to the violence in acute units.
Community Visitors reported that patients can also become aggressive when confronted in regard to smoking, which is now banned in all hospital facilities.
Unfortunately, sexual assaults also continue to occur within mental health facilities. Most facilities now have women-only corridors or lounges but some services, such as the Secure Extended Care Unit in Ballarat, do not. Also, some incidents of sexual assault reported this year were male-to-male assaults.
Despite a code of practice from the Department of Health and Human Services reinforcing the right of Community Visitors to access incident reports, Community Visitor access to them remains a significant problem in many parts of the State.
Victorians are also at risk when a shortage of mental health beds places pressure on hospitals to make admission decisions which are not age or need-appropriate. Some services only have dual-occupancy rooms which can also put patients at risk.
The lack of affordable, supported accommodation options means that people cannot be discharged when they are ready to leave hospital, or they are discharged to unsuitable places. This affects their recovery and sometimes leads to their return to hospital.
This year, 405 Community Visitors made 5151 visits to mental health facilities, disability group homes, and Supported Residential Services (SRS).
2017 is the 30th anniversary of the Community Visitors Program supported by the Office of the Public Advocate.
Media enquiries: Sally Gibson 0409 197 717