Experts in town leading mental health review

CONTROVERSIAL mental health practices will be up for discussion at Lismore City Hall this evening as an expert panel meets with the public to consult about the use of seclusion, restraint and observation in the state’s mental health facilities.

The independent review was launched by the State Government after a Coronial inquest earlier this year into the death mother-of-two Miriam Merten at Lismore Base Hospital’s acute mental health inpatient unit.

Shocking findings from the inquest revealed Ms Merten died from a brain injury at the unit in 2014 where she was left naked and without any food or water in a seclusion room for hours.

The state’s chief psychiatrist Murray Wright, who is leading the review, said Ms Merten’s death was a “massive departure from appropriate clinical care” that was nothing short of a tragedy.

A tragedy Dr Wright and the panel are working to ensure doesn’t happen again by conducting the independent review in a bid to catalyse change throughout the mental health system.

Deputy commissioners of the NSW Mental Health Commission and the Australian Mental Health Commission, Robyn Shields and Jackie Crowe accompany Dr Wright on the panel.

The panel is rounded out with behavioural health consultant Kevin Huckshorn, Southern NSW Local Health District nursing and midwifery executive director Julie Mooney and official inspector of mental health facilities, Karen Lenihan.

Lismore is the seventh of ten community consultations to be conducted as part of the review.

So far, Dr Wright said the consultations have proven “very valuable” with a range of “important messages”.

“The sort of messages that we are getting is that the use of seclusion and restraint in mental health services can be very traumatising,” Dr Wright said.

He said the panel began with the view seclusion and restraint “are not therapeutic” but rather as a last resort to prevent injury.

Strengthening relationships between mental health clinicians and patients has also been flagged as a major issue in previous forums.

“People sometimes feel like they are treated as numbers rather than individuals and it’s not that hard to put that humanity back into a clinician setting,” he said.

The development of individualised safety and treatment plans between the patient, their carer and doctor have been among many suggestions for improvement raised at the meetings, Dr Wright said.

He said the plans could map out better ways to manage extreme situations if and when they arise after the patient leaves hospital.

The panel will also consult with staff at Lismore’s mental health facilities as part of their visit.

Findings and recommendations from the independent review will be presented to the government later this year.

Written public submissions can also be lodged by mail or online until September 24.

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