Confusion over Barrett closure recounted

By Alexandra Patrikios

Inexperienced staff, confusing communications and heightened emotions marked the controversial closure of a Brisbane mental health facility, an inquiry has heard.

The commission of inquiry into the Barrett Adolescent Psychiatric Centre began in the Brisbane Magistrates Court on Monday.

The inquiry will consider issues surrounding the closure of the Wacol centre, which provided long-term inpatient mental health treatment for people under 18, in January 2014.

Within eight months of the site's closure, three former patients had died.

In her opening remarks, counsel assisting Catherine Muir said most families had come to the centre as a last resort and largely recalled positive experiences at the facility.

But with the impending closure, she said the evidence suggested experienced staff left and were replaced with casuals who didn't have the same ongoing mental health expertise or patient knowledge.

Ms Muir said the transition period took place against a background of heightened emotions and confusion, with many families claiming they didn't receive any follow-up contact after being discharged or received "mixed messages" in the lead-up to the facility's closure.

Meanwhile, fellow counsel assisting Paul Freeburn urged people to resist observing the inquiry, which is expected to hear from more than 45 witnesses, through a pro-Barrett or anti-Barrett lens.

He said the fact-finding inquiry would examine if such a facility was, or still is, needed given some believed those treated at the 15-bed site could have been absorbed into existing health services.

Mr Freeburn said many documents detailing the closure process tended to rely on shorthand allusions to key issues and lacked references to detailed analysis.

The inquiry also viewed minutes from a West Moreton Hospital and Health Service meeting in which the board noted the BAC was no longer suitable but was concerned there was no established alternative for patients in May 2013.

It came after an expert clinical reference group found a BAC-style facility was an essential service component to mental health treatment and to close it without an alternative would be associated with risk.

Outside the inquiry, Justine Wilkinson, who lost daughter Caitlin, said there were still "gaping holes" in mental health services not just in Queensland, but nationwide.

"We believe that there needs to be that sort of facility again," she said of the BAC.

"The problem with adolescents of course is they're our future - to get them to be well and able to develop those skills of resilience and health is really important."

Ms Wilkinson refrained from commenting on the inquiry in detail but thanked a number of people, including Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk for helping establish it.

The inquiry before Commissioner Margaret Wilson continues.

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