Mental bill risks workers, patients

Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party will seek t remove the government’s ‘fantasy, yet dangerous’ plan to eliminate seclusion and restraint practices from Victoria’s mental health system within a decade.

It will move amendments to the Mental Health and Wellbeing Bill 2022 when it comes to Legislative Council.

Concerns for healthcare workers’ welfare and safety and that of other patients have been raised by many healthcare organisations, including the Australian Medical Association (Victorian Division), and unions.

DHJP agrees with most healthcare organisations that restrictive intervention practices should be reduced as much as possible.

But the party does not believe it will ever be possible to eliminate such practices unless the government also makes the commitment to eliminate ‘ice’ (methamphetamines), drug-induced psychosis and unpredictable mental health conditions such as schizophrenia. None of these things can be achieved. To assert that they can is “living in la-la land”, according to DHJP parliamentary leader Stuart Grimley MP (Western Victoria).

After healthcare organisation raised concerns with the government about proposals to reform restrictive intervention laws, the government in December last year announced that an independent panel would look at these matters. The terms of reference for the panel won’t be released until October, but the government’s proposed bill, which has passed the Legislative Assembly, commences in September 2023 before the panel delivers its findings.

DHJP believes that restrictive intervention laws should remain as they stand until the panel’s recommendations have been made. This will ensure the healthcare system is not grappling with enforcing changes (that require changes in protocols and policy as well as additional staff attention), then possibly seeing these reversed after the panel reports to the government.

For example, the bill will require additional checks for patients who are under chemical restraint. It will also allow other healthcare workers, such as nurses and psychiatrists, to transport mentally unwell patients, including those affected by alcohol and other drugs. This role is currently undertaken by police or ambulance services.

This rushed move is quite simply the government seeking to tick a box (legislating the new Mental Health Act) before the election, without full and comprehensive stakeholder engagement to get the bill right. The appointment of the panel and commitment by the former Minister for Mental Health for “a future amending bill” makes this clear.

DHJP is sending a message to the government: “Get this bill right the first time to keep healthcare workers and other patients safe and avoid the legislative nightmare of fixing mistakes later”.

Tania Maxwell MP, Member for Northern Victoria:

“Any move by the Government to change laws regarding restrictive interventions should be done with the safety and welfare of healthcare workers and the wider community  top of mind.

“No changes should be made to laws regarding restrictive interventions until the independent panel’s review has been completed in 2023, and only when (or if) restrictive measures have been successfully reduced without compromising safety.

“Rushing this through only circumvents pre-empts the work of the independent panel, whose terms of reference won’t even be established until October, this year, and ignores serious concerns raised by the very people who have to work in complex settings every day.”

Stuart Grimley MP (Western Victoria):

“If the government can guarantee that they will eradicate ‘ice’, other addictive drugs and unpredictable mental health conditions such as schizophrenia from public health in Victoria, then we might be able to support the reforms it has proposed.

“But to suggest this is possible is a government living in ‘la-la land’. It’s wishful thinking and not grained in any sense of reality.

“The safety of healthcare workers and other patients needs to paramount when changing laws dealing with unpredictable and sometimes psychotic patients, but that hasn’t been the case here.”

NOTE: The bill is presently in the Legislative Assembly at the second reading stage.