NSW Puts Mental Health Practice Under the Microscope

By Andrew Heaton

(image via HSUWA)

Practices within the New South Wales mental health system are set to go under the microscope as the government in that state responds to details about the horrific circumstances involved in the death of a 46-year-old patient.

Following the findings of a Coronial Inquiry into the death of 46-year-old Lismore patient Myrian Merten, NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard and Mental Health Minister Tanya Davies announced that they had directed NSW Chief Psychiatrist Dr Murray Wright to review policies and practices associated with seclusion, observation and restraint

The government has also asked the current Legislative Council inquiry into the Management of Health Care Delivery in NSW to re-open its submissions to allow mental health care to be addressed.

The latest announcement follows a Coronial Inquest which found that Merten – a mother of two – was locked within a seclusion room at the Lismore Adult Mental Health Inpatient Unit on June 1, 2014, which had no furniture except a mattress on the floor.

Merten died the next morning after a nurse unlocked the room and she was left to stumble naked around the hallway – eventually collapsing in a corner.

Staff rushed in an emergency cart but Merten nonetheless died at Lismore Base Hospital two days later.

During her time in seclusion, the Coroner found that Merten had hit her head at least 20 times.

The two nurses were stood down and did not return to employment in NSW Health.

The Coroner’s inquest, and an investigation by the Health Care Complaints Commission also found the nurses responsible for monitoring Merten that night guilty of professional misconduct

Hazzard said Wright would conduct a complete review which looked at both practices and culture across the board.

“The circumstances surrounding Ms Merten’s treatment and subsequent death in 2014 are shocking, and the lack of humanity in her care astounding,” Hazzard said.

Davies said the case had caused distress for Merten’s family and others whose loved ones who were being treated for acute mental health conditions.

“Ms Merten had her dignity denied, she was confused and distressed,” Davies said.

“She needed attention, care and compassion.”

Assisting Wright in the review will be the the Principal Official Visitor, Karen Lenehan and an international expert in mental health nursing, Kevin Huckshorn

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