Queensland’s new Mental Health Commissioner has been forced to reply to community concerns after the Queensland Government locked down the state’s 16 mental health acute care centres from last week.
The states’s acute mental health centres were locked from December 15 after 2200 patients absconded from centres in 2012-13.
Queensland Mental Health Commissioner Dr Lesley van Schoubroeck said the community was worried at how the lockdown would impact on voluntary mental health patients.
She said clear guidelines were needed.
“Clear guidelines to protect the rights of these patients are required,” she said.
Dr van Schoubroeck said she would seek assurance from the state government about the practical applications of new acute mental health care guidelines.
Despite Health Minister Lawrence Springborg’s media advisor telling Fairfax Media on Thursday the changes only affected involuntary and forensic patients, there is still widespread agency concern at the impact of the lockdown on patients, she said.
“I understand these changes in Queensland reflect legislative provisions in New South Wales, based on coronial recommendations following the death of a patient absent without permission,” Ms van Schoubroeck said.
The National Mental Health Commission last week questioned whether the Queensland Government was breaching United Nations guidelines for mental health care.
“It is well-recognised that an important part of the treatment of involuntary patients is planned community treatment,” Ms van Schoubroeck said.
“This enables patients, such as mothers with post-natal depression and people with severe anxiety, to spend short periods of time at home,” she said.
“But there are also significant concerns about the impact of these changes on voluntary patients, people in hospital for treatment of their own free will.”
She said people with mental illness were more likely to be victims of crime and more likely to harm themselves than others.
A need for better legal representation for involuntary patients was identified during recent state-wide consultations on a new mental health and drug strategic plan.
One in every five Australians will experience a mental illness every year.
This article first appeared on ‘Brisbane Times’ on 20 December 2013.