Panel appointed for NSW mental unit review

Sarah McPhee
Panel appointed for NSW mental unit review
Panel appointed for NSW mental unit review

A six-person panel will traverse NSW to determine whether the state's mental health system is consistent with national standards and international best practice.

The expert panel, headed by NSW Chief Psychiatrist Murray Wright, will travel to hospitals, acute mental health units, mental health intensive care units and declared emergency departments.

Public workshops will allow for face-to-face consultations and submissions, while past cases of seclusion and restraint will also be scrutinised.

NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard launched the system review earlier this month, along with a parliamentary inquiry, after disturbing CCTV footage was aired of a patient's final days in the mental health unit of Lismore Base Hospital nearly three years ago.

Miriam Merten was held in a seclusion cell, naked and with no access to water for almost six hours, and spent more than 30 minutes covered in her own faeces before her eventual collapse in a corridor of the facility.

A coronial inquest into the June 2014 death of the 46-year-old found she died of traumatic and hypoxic brain injury after falling at least 25 times in seven hours while on psychotropic drugs.

Mr Hazzard says "no stone will be left unturned" by the review to ensure those living with mental illness in NSW are "receiving the best possible care and treatment in the least restrictive environment".

"We need to know appropriate policies are in place in our hospitals and mental health facilities and the extent to which staff actually adhere to existing policies and protocol," he said in a statement on Monday.

Dr Wright has previously labelled seclusion as "a treatment of last resort, where all other treatment has failed".

The independent panel consists of Dr Wright; American restraint reduction expert Dr Kevin Huckshorn; NSW principal official visitor Karen Lenihan; deputy commissioner at the NSW Mental Health Commission Dr Robyn Shields; deputy commissioner of the Australian Mental Health Commission Jackie Crowe; and the Southern NSW Local Health District's Julie Mooney.

The group will submit a final report to the government by early December along with recommendations on how to reduce seclusion and restraint practices in NSW.