Calls for change after 'shocking' hospital discharge

The late-night hospital discharge of an Indigenous woman who had been violently assaulted hours earlier should prompt change in the health-care system, Victoria's truth-telling commission has been told.

Sissy Austin was running through the Lal Lal state forest, near Ballarat, in February 2023 when she was knocked unconscious with a rock tied to a stick.

After she regained consciousness, Ms Austin ran 4km back to her car and was taken to hospital by ambulance.

Victorian Health Minister Mary-Anne Thomas told the Yoorrook Justice Commission on Friday Ms Austin was "very distressed" after arriving at Ballarat Hospital.

"Sissy explained to me that in the emergency department, she was in a cubicle, that she was very distressed," Ms Thomas said.

"She was covered in blood, she'd vomited, and she was lying in her own vomit.

"She'd had a CT scan but she started calling out, 'I don't want to be here - get me out of here'."

This behaviour prompted a nurse to ask Ms Austin to sign discharge papers, Ms Thomas said.

"Without fully knowing what it meant, what Sissy had done is discharge herself from the hospital," the health minister said.

"She was still calling out - 'get me out of here' - and she was pointed to the exit."

By the time Ms Austin was discharged it was 1am, she had a concussion and no family members or friends to transport her home.

"What this story shows us is the real human impact of what Sissy experienced was brutal and dehumanising, and it is completely unacceptable," Ms Thomas said.

Barrister Fiona McLeod
Barrister Fiona McLeod has quizzed Victoria's health minister about hospital discharge procedures. (Diego Fedele/AAP PHOTOS)

"I was devastated to hear this experience.

"It is truly shocking."

Senior counsel assisting the commission, Fiona McLeod, quizzed the minister about Ms Austin's case.

"Being left on her own in an emergency department, in a state of shock and in her own blood would be very frightening and shocking ... Would you agree with that?" she said.

"Yes I would," Ms Thomas replied.

She said work was needed to better understand how discharge forms could have been misused by staff at hospitals in Victoria.

"These forms are enabling people to discharge themselves against medical advice, without even knowing that's what they are doing," she said.

"How are they being used in our health system?"

Ms Thomas said "ignorance is no excuse" and she would keep Ms Austin's story front of mind in pursuing change.

Ms Austin, a Djab Wurrung woman and Indigenous rights' campaigner, was a senate candidate for the Greens at the 2022 federal election.