Secure Mental Health Unit Model of Care

This is a submission made on behalf of the entire ACT Human Rights Commission:

Previous consultation

We note and appreciate that a number of concerns and issues raised in the Commission’s February 2012 submission to the Draft Preliminary Models of Care have been addressed. Some of those concerns and issues remain in the 2.1 draft. It is not clear to the Commission whether some of those concerns have been considered and rejected by the Directorate, whether some modifications to the previous draft were intended to allay those concerns, or perhaps whether some of those concerns are intended to be addressed through further work. We therefore highlight those issues again for your attention (without re-articulating our concerns).

The outstanding issues relate to:

  • Detaining children in the same facility as adults
  • Separation of children from adults within a facility
  • Separation of sentenced detainees from remandees
  • Separation of civil patients from sentenced detainees/remandees
  • Smoking

We would welcome the opportunity to discuss these issues further to assist our understanding of ACT Health’s position.

Current consultation

Admission criteria (p18) – civil/PTO consumers

The Commission previously raised concern at the proposal that a single practitioner could transfer a non-forensic consumer to the SMHU, and notes that work has been conducted to propose a clinical admission panel.

If the Commission’s concerns relating to the mixing of sentenced/remand/civil consumers were to be allayed, it would still be of concern that such a substantial decision (to admit a civil patient to a purpose-built facility, co-located with forensic patients and subject to greater physical and other restrictions than would otherwise be placed on a person in the current environment) would be possible without the direct oversight and explicit approval of the Tribunal at or following a hearing. We therefore suggest that a Tribunal decision should authorise any non-emergency/urgent transfer in advance (perhaps in a way similar to the current scheme for Restriction Orders), and that any emergency/urgent transfer be brought to the Tribunal’s attention immediately, with a view to endorsement or otherwise.
We note the reference to ACAT on page 26 under the heading Discharge and Transfer but are unclear about exactly what ACAT oversight will be available. In particular the term judicial does not apply to ACAT and there is insufficient information about the review process to enable us to understand what mechanisms will be in place. Further, while the document appears to refer to the initial detention of the person being subject to ACAT oversight, it is not clear that this is the case when the ACAT references are located in the Discharge and Transfer section. Again, we would appreciate the opportunity to discuss this issue.
In relation to forensic consumers, we would be concerned if the requirement for a panel decision were to result in delays in admitting consumers from the AMC in emergency circumstances. In our view, it would be unacceptable if delays were to result in consumers being admitted to the AMHU as an alternative, and this in turn produced a situation where consumers would be handcuffed to beds by order of Corrective Services. The Health Services Commissioner understands from discussions with Peter Norrie and Tina Bracher that the need to wait for panel decisions could be overridden in such circumstances. We consider that the document should be explicit in this respect.

Admission criteria (p18) – mental dysfunction/disorder

The Commission notes with concern the intention to restrict admission to people who meet the criteria for a Psychiatric Treatment Order (PTO).
While recognising that the treatment of people with a condition that fits the ACT Act’s definition of mental illness is the primary intent of the facility, the Commission envisions that such a restriction may, from time to time and in the absence of other suitable alternatives, unreasonably restrict access to an appropriate level of support, intervention and risk mitigation for people who meet the definition of mental dysfunction/disorder and who are (or may be) subject to a Community Care Order – both in the forensic stream, and the civil stream.

The Commission considers that adequate policy safeguards could be put in place to ensure that the primary intent of the facility is not inappropriately or unintentionally diverted, while still ensuring adequate services to people with mental dysfunction/disorder who otherwise meet the admission criteria for the facility and who would not have access to an appropriate alternative.

Safety and Security Requirements (p26)

The Commission does not consider it accurate to state unequivocally that ‘weaknesses in physical security cannot be compensated for by increases in relational and procedural security’. While the Health Services Commissioner has not yet finalised and published her report Investigation into the mechanical restraint of a prison detainee while being treated in a mental health facility, the report challenges the notion that adequate efforts to enhance relational and procedural security do not provide a level of mitigation. It might be more accurate to state that, while increases in relational and procedural security can compensate for weaknesses in physical security, a certain baseline level of physical security is desirable and necessary.

Separation of men from women (p32)

The Commission notes the proposed protections for vulnerable persons, including women.
Particularly in the context of a facility housing both civil and forensic consumers, but also regardless of such a mix, the physical and sexual safety of female patients is of significant concern to the Commission. It is noted that in a correctional environment, the strict separation of males and females is the norm, and the risk profiles of various pairs of patients in the SMHU environment could be greater than would otherwise be encountered in either a civil mental health facility or a correctional environment.
For example, a vulnerable civil patient could be admitted at the same time as a detainee serving a sentence for an offence that indicates a heightened risk to that particular vulnerable population.
Clearly the extent to which these stated aims are met will dictate the level of safety and reassurance able to be provided. The Commission notes that it has investigated a complaint in relation to sexual safety in the AMHU, which highlighted the difficulties inherent in ensuring physical and sexual safety regardless of policy intentions.

Statutory Bodies (p37)

While it is correct that the Health Services Commissioner will be the primary jurisdiction for people to make complaints from the SMHU regarding health services and health records issues, there may be occasions when other areas of the Commission’s jurisdiction will be relevant. We suggest the following addition to the information so that consumers are aware of other options for pursuing grievances.
The Commission also considers complaints about the provision of services for older people, disability services and services for children and young people, as well as complaints about unlawful discrimination.
We also recommend that reference to the Ombudsman be removed. All complaints about a person’s care are within the jurisdiction of the Health Services Commissioner, whether resulting from clinical or administrative decisions. The Ombudsman Act specifically excludes the Ombudsman from having jurisdiction in the health services area.

Other observations

  • We note the reference to Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islanders, but again commend the Report of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, in terms of its reference to adjoining cells (‘buddy’ units) in the context of design (and therefore related policies).
  • Consideration may be appropriate for addressing the needs of particular groups who may have specific cultural requirements, for example those of the Muslim faith.
  • The Commission queries whether, from time to time, discharge to the AMHU, BHRC or the adult Step Up Step Down facility may be appropriate – and if so, we suggest that this perhaps be recognised under Discharge and Transfer.