Debates Day 3 - Thursday 21 October 2010
Parliamentary Record 15
Debates for 11th Assembly 2008 - 2012; ParliamentNT; Parliamentary Record; 11th Assembly 2008 - 2012
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Legislative Assembly of the Northern Territory
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Legislative Assembly of the Northern Territory
DEBATES - Thursday 21 October 2010 Mr VATSKALIS: Boosting inpatient bed capacity will assist the management of all patients and provide more treatment options. On this front, construction is well under way for an additional five inpatient secure care beds, which are expected to be available in early 2011. In addition, the member would be well aware the government is locating a 16-bed secure care unit to treat patients with behavioural disturbances. It is a pity we could not do so earlier. Unfortunately, the member for Goyder ran a very interesting campaign against that facility being established in the Greater Darwin area. The government cares about the needs of mentally ill clients. We do not propose to create ghettos. We propose to treat people in facilities appropriate for their illness. We have tried to improve services considerably: we have almost tripled the budget; expanded services to rural and remote communities; developed the Northern Territory Suicide Prevention Strategy and Action Plan; implemented early intervention initiatives; provided clinical services for prisoners and accredited medical health services; made a commitment to develop mental health services; and continue with new budget initiatives with $900 000 to establish a Territory-wide 24-hour mental health hotline. As already outlined, the tier 1 phase of secure care is well under way and will provide an additional 11 acute mental health beds, five in Darwin and six in Alice Springs. Getting back to the issue at hand, the current policy is under constant review, as are the arrangements associated with implementation and management. Given voluntary patients give consent to be locked on the ward and are able to withdraw this consent at any time, there are no legal issues around the ward being locked. If a person - and the report refers to Jock because Jock wanted a cigarette - wishes to leave the ward area to have a cigarette, their assessed condition allows for staff to determine whether they will be safe during any leave. Where there appears to be no risk, patients are able to leave the ward but are accompanied. I notice in the report there were occasions where people went voluntarily. Some were allowed to leave without any problem - without any escort. Some were not allowed to leave at all. Some were allowed to leave with an escort, which seems to be the case with Jock as referred to in the report. With a low-risk level they can leave, or may have some conditions attached to them. If a person presents to the ward voluntarily, all information relating to their rights is provided. If that person decides to leave early - we advise them to stay for 48 hours to be assessed - we still advise the person to consult a doctor before they leave, however, if they insist on leaving, as long as they have signed the prescribed form of release they can leave the ward at any time. I am happy to discuss this issue further with the member for Port Darwin. The policy of the department is constantly under review. I will be extremely angry if I discover people who had voluntarily admitted themselves were being held against their will, especially when the policy is very clear. I recall the Ombudsmans report the member for Port Darwin referred to because in April 2009 there were allegations Royal Darwin Hospital was detaining people without an appropriate legal basis. Unfortunately, Royal Darwin Hospital deals with not only the mentally unstable, also people coming out of accidents who may be confused; they can be feeling well and may want to go home. I recall the article in the newspaper soon after the case referred to and the patient said he was at the hospital, he had an open brain injury, he wanted to go, and he was confused and did not know what had happened to him. He admitted if it had not been for the hospital restraining him against his will he would be dead. Furthermore, following the Ombudsmans report the Department of Health and Families sought advice from the Solicitor-General and amended the policy for medical treatment of adults without consent to ensure the policy was based upon that advice. The policy now complies with the advice of the Solicitor-General. Madam Speaker, we are not in the business of detaining people against their will. We are in the business of protecting people. In some cases, people believe they are well; they believe there is nothing wrong with them and can leave any time they want against the advice of the doctor despite the fact they may be a risk to themselves and others. Mr CONLAN (Greatorex): Madam Speaker, I thank the member for Port Darwin for bringing on this MPI. This is, indeed, a matter of public importance and the Ombudsmans report highlights grave concerns about what is happening in our mental health institutions. I appreciate the minister has explained at length some of the process, however, he has not answered the specific questions put to him by the member for Port Darwin today in Question Time or during this MPI. This MPI has to do with legal ramifications for Territory taxpayers and Territory public servants, and deprivation of liberty issues. The minister has avoided answering some questions. They were simple questions and we are still unclear of the situation. 6540
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