Page 4143 - Week 13 - Tuesday, 15 November 2005

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To that end, it is worth highlighting some other programs which the government has undertaken since it came to office. In particular, we are doing work around improved relationship-building between mental health clients and GPs. We all know that, when someone has a mental illness, all too often their general physical health also declines. One program that is now up and running is a liaison program to encourage GPs to work more closely with mental health clients to assist mental health clients to see their GPs regularly to maintain and address, on a regular basis, issues with their general physical health as well as their emotional wellbeing. Improving their access to primary health care is an important priority and one which is already funded and under way.

We are also fostering access to both mental health and alcohol and drug services. Dual diagnosis issues continue to be an emerging and very challenging situation for care providers, for clients themselves and obviously for service providers. New protocols are being put in place through the ACT Health co-morbidity program to recognise the high prevalence of co-morbidity illness around drug, alcohol and mental illnesses.

Finally, I would like to address some issues around the work of the Official Visitor. The Official Visitor has an important role: to monitor and improve inpatient mental health services. I am very grateful for the work of the outgoing Official Visitor, Ms Joan Lipscombe who recently retired at the end of her three-year term as principal Official Visitor. We are currently recruiting a replacement for Ms Lipscombe. I had an ongoing and very positive dialogue with her in her role as principal Official Visitor and met with her on a quarterly basis.

It is worth highlighting some issues in her final report. There were a number of positives. For example, she welcomed the more comprehensive information provided to support applications to the Mental Health Tribunal and the plans to introduce a wellness program focusing on patient physical wellbeing and lifestyle of the Psychiatric Services Unit. She also commented, in her final report, that steps to bolster the mental health nursing work force were gradually coming to fruition.

As always, she upheld her responsibility also to outline where the challenges were and where the problems were. She outlined—and it is also valuable to outline—how the government is working to address these. The issues she outlined included concerns about high levels of seclusion in the PSU. In response, a new seclusion area has now been established and seclusion rates are being very closely monitored. The duration of seclusion has also been reduced where possible.

She also raised concerns about the level of aggression and violence in the PSU. In response, the government, through ACT Health, has developed a policy on preventing and managing aggression and violence which will establish approaches to reduce these incidents. Her report also raised the importance of planning to minimise the risk of negative and harmful interactions in future development of inpatient facilities. Risk minimisation is a key aspect of future planning for all our new mental health facilities.

The government accepts that more work needs to be done. We are coming from an historically low base of mental health funding in the territory. The government has significantly increased the budget. We are planning on improving the acute care facilities which are in desperate need of that investment. We continue to focus strongly on

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