Changes to Vic mental health complaints

·2-min read

Victoria's mental health complaints system will undergo changes after a report criticising incidents of seclusion and use of restraint.

Complaints processes will be streamlined by the state's mental health complaints commissioner, a week after the report revealed Australia's three worst hospitals for use of mechanical restraints were in Victoria.

The changes will allow officials to better assess whether uses of restraint and seclusion have met the guidelines.

A more rigorous complaints process will also be implemented, including collection of detailed information from public mental health services.

The moves will better protect human rights and ensure strong oversight, Mental Health Complaints Commissioner Treasure Jennings said.

"While we are pleased to see that many services have either minimised or are working to reduce seclusion and restraint, there is still significant work to be done, which this new process will support," she said.

At least 7461 incidents of seclusion and restraint were among the 26,884 admissions to inpatient mental health services in 2020/21, last week's report by the Victorian Mental Illness Awareness Council shows.

On average, Victoria secluded people for 5.7 hours per seclusion in 2019/20. The national average is just under five hours.

Seclusion and restraint are used to control a person's behaviour. Likened to solitary confinement, seclusion is only meant to be used by health professionals as a last resort.

Restraints include physical, mechanical, chemical and psychological methods and reported incidents include the use of straps, drugs and threats.

Seclusion and restraint use was found to be higher in groups including men and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Ms Jennings said meaningful change could come from people speaking out about their experiences.

Alex (not their real name) was restrained after being admitted to a mental health facility and said the experience caused great pain and discomfort. Restraints weren't repositioned for several hours.

A detailed review of Alex's case by the commission found breaches of mental health regulations, resulting in changes including training for staff in appropriate methods of restraint.

"We want to see a public mental health system based on self-determination and designed by those with lived experience," Ms Jennings said.

"The MHCC exists to ensure the voice of consumers and carers is heard and we are very focused on how we can drive cultural change as well as safeguard human rights."

The Department of Health said improvements had been made but admitted more work was needed.

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