Top doc examines Illawarra's mental health facilities

Best practice: NSW chief psychiatrist Dr Murray Wright will meet with mental health consumers and carers during a visit to the region this week as part of a statewide review into seclusion, restraint and observation. Picture: Robert Peet
Best practice: NSW chief psychiatrist Dr Murray Wright will meet with mental health consumers and carers during a visit to the region this week as part of a statewide review into seclusion, restraint and observation. Picture: Robert Peet

There's a call for more ‘’humanity’’ in mental health care, NSW chief psychiatrist Dr Murray Wright said during a visit to Wollongong on Thursday.

It was just the second stop on a statewide tour of mental health facilities as part of an investigation into seclusion, restraint and observation practices.

NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard announced the review in May after horrific footage emerged of a patient’s final days at Lismore Base Hospital in 2014.

Miriam Merten died from traumatic and hypoxic brain injury caused by numerous falls after she was locked, naked and chemically restrained, in a seclusion room in the mental health unit.

Dr Wright said the review aimed to ensure such an incident never happened again.

‘’What happened to Ms Merten was completely shocking and an unacceptable level of care, and the staff involved were correctly held to account,’’ he said. ‘’However it’s important to understand the complexity of the environment the staff work in, and not to demonise them.’’

At each location Dr Wright will meet with mental health consumers and carers. He will also tour facilities, including those at Wollongong and Shellharbour hospitals, and speak with staff.

He acknowledged that observation practices at Shellharbour Hospital’s mental health facilities in particular had come under scrutiny in recent years.

In July 2014 a patient was killed by another patient at the Eloura West unit. Meantime the NSW Coroner’s Court is reviewing the unexplained death of Nikola Nastovski at the Mirrabrook unit on May 4 this year.

‘’I understand any critical event is deeply distressing and can undermine confidence in the system,’’ Dr Wright said. ‘’Each incident is investigated thoroughly and in some cases subject to coronial inquests.’’

Dr Wright said the review team was already getting some interesting insights from patients and carers.

‘’It’s often the simple things, like humanity in one’s approach, that can make the difference,’’ he said. ‘’It’s both distressing to hear how rarely people experience that human touch, and reassuring to see what an impact it makes when that humanity is there.’’

The review team will deliver their report by December.

‘’We want to meet families, consumers and community members to get their perspective and ideas that might help to improve services,’’ Dr Wright said.

‘’We also want to hear from staff to understand the environment they’re working in and their perspective. It’s important not to jump to conclusions.’’

Dr Wright said all aspects of seclusion, restraint and observation would be reviewed. This included the physical design of mental health facilities and the mix of people who worked within them.

‘’Evidence from overseas shows us that the things that can make a big difference to the use of seclusion and restraint are training and education of staff, firm and good leadership and improvement to the overall culture of the environment,’’ he said.

There was also a lot of interest in exploring the value of existing, and emerging technologies – such as wearable monitors – to improve mental health care.

Dr Wright is joined on the review panel by NSW Mental Health Commission deputy commissioner Dr Robyn Shields; National Mental Health Commission deputy commissioner Jackie Crowe; NSW Principal Official Visitor Karen Lenihan; Southern NSW Local Health District nursing and midwifery executive director Julie Mooney and US behavioural health consultant Dr Kevin Huckshorn.

For details visit www.health.nsw.gov.au or email MHSeclusionReview@moh.health.nsw.gov.au