There are claims the rights of Tasmanian mental health patients are being abused and breached, despite the introduction a year ago of a new Mental Health Act. The act was supposed to enshrine better protection for mental health patients who are among the health system’s most vulnerable. Mental health advocates want Parliament to investigate their concerns. They said the recent case of a southern Tasmanian woman highlighted how the system had fallen down. Rachel Milligan was just weeks away from giving birth when she became an involuntary patient in the Royal Hobart Hospital’s psychiatric ward. It was her first experience and she hopes, her last. “That was frightening they have a lot of power,” she said. “I wouldn’t wish it on anybody and really would like to see something changed.” For legal reasons, the ABC cannot detail why Mrs Milligan came to the attention of the hospital’s psychiatric staff. Mrs Milligan lodged multiple complaints about her care and treatment through a mechanism known as the Official Visitor. One of the changes in the new act was the inclusion for the first time of explicit rights for patients detained under the legislation.
This Statement of Rights is supposed to be given to patients, but in Mrs Milligan’s case she said that did not happen until she asked for them. “Three other times it should have been given to me; each time my status changed, and upon discharge and on none of those occasions were my rights provided to me,” she said. “I believe that the Mental Health Act was breached multiple times while I was being admitted and while I was attending at the Royal.” She believed her pregnancy was her saving grace. “Something that struck me was that because I was pregnant they could not medicate me immediately on admission so I had several days to recruit my team, find out what my rights were and get a bit of an idea about what was actually going on.”
Rachel Milligan’s family fears case not isolated
Mrs Milligan’s private psychiatrist backs her patient’s claims that the Mental Health Act was breached in her treatment. Dr Natalie Glinka believes the family has been treated “non-empathically, in secrecy and unlawfully … leading to the breaking of the Mental Health Act severely”. Mrs Milligan’s husband Greg does not think their case is isolated. “We saw more than one person in there who was having their rights breached,” he said. Mental health advocate Dannii Lane has written a report detailing several cases alleging breaches of the act. Ms Lane is calling on state parliament to investigate the act’s management. “Clinicians, management, nursing staff are simply not aware of their obligations under the act, both medical and legal,” Ms Lane said. “What we’ve got is a resurrected nightmare, we’ve gone backwards 50 years.” Consumer group Flourish has been concerned about the implementation of the act since its inception. Chief executive Miranda Ashby does not think there have been sufficient resources to make it work. “Without any appropriate funding for all areas across the system cracks will emerge,” Ms Ashby said.
Chief psychiatrist flags challenges implementing aspects of act
Ms Lane believes the psychiatric intensive care unit, known as PICU, failed to meet the act’s criteria in terms of its physical structure. As well as patients not being given their “Statement of Rights” Ms Lane said the “Urgent Circumstances” treatment provisions of the act had been abused, and that chemical restraint and suicide gowns were being used in contravention of the act. Chief psychiatrist Len Lambeth said there had been challenges implementing aspects of the act, but he said it had been largely positive. Dr Lambeth said the act balanced consumer rights with the need for treatment, and took a strong human rights-based approach. However, he said the assessment and treatment pathway may need to be streamlined. “We are currently working with stakeholders to look at this issue,” Dr Lambeth said. Health Minister Michael Ferguson would not be drawn on Mrs Milligan’s case, saying allegations of breaches should be reported to the appropriate authorities. Mrs Milligan will forward her complaints to the Ombudsman.
This article and image first appeared ABC, 2 March 2015.