Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 5 Hansard (7 May) . . Page.. 1231 ..
MR STANHOPE (continuing):
It is a very serious issue. We are very well aware of it. We are dealing with it. Just last week, I launched a major new program, keeping families together, to deal with the need for government support for the families-
Mr Cornwell: Are you conducting studies or not?
MR STANHOPE: Constantly. We look and research, and we review all of these issues constantly, Mr Cornwell.
Mental health services
MR HARGREAVES: My question, through you, Mr Speaker, is to the Minister for Health, Mr Stanhope. Minister, what priority does the government place on protecting the mental health of our community? Has the government initiated any action in response to the obvious gaps in service delivery it inherited from the previous government.
MR STANHOPE: Thank you, Mr Hargreaves. It is a very important question; it is a question that has received some community comment and debate in recent weeks; a debate which was generated-and one has to acknowledge-by the death of a number of clients of Mental Health Services. It is good always that we focus on these things. But it is very distressing that the debate in this particular instance has been generated by those very tragic deaths of three clients of Mental Health Services.
There are a couple of things I need to say in relation to action that has been initiated since then. It needs to be understood that, as a result of those unexpected deaths of three people receiving assistance from Mental Health Services, the coroner will, as a matter of course, inquire into the deaths. Any comment I make in relation to the issue does need to take account of the roles and responsibility of the coroner and the need for us not to transgress. That is an inquiry which will, as a matter of course, be undertaken into the deaths of those three people.
Similarly, ACT Mental Health Services initiated, as a matter of course, as it always does, a critical incident review. This is a very significant and serious review-a review chaired by the head of Mental Health Services, Professor Cathy Owen. That is a clinically undertaken review of all aspects around the critical incident. In this instance the critical incident was that three clients of Mental Health Services died.
In addition, the ACT Department of Health and Community Care has instituted, effectively as a matter of course, as a result of those particular incidents, a review of quality processes for mental health service delivery in the ACT.
In addition, I have directed the ACT Community Health Services Complaints Commissioner, Mr Ken Patterson, to investigate in a systemic way accessibility to standards of acute mental health services and adequacy of follow-up. The Health Services Complaints Commissioner tells me that he does receive, from time to time, and on a reasonably regular basis, complaints around mental health service delivery. He is very happy to undertake an inquiry at my behest and direction into issues around accessibility and standards of acute mental health services, particularly in those times of crisis when persons realise that they are in crisis and are seeking urgent attention.