Chief Psychiatrist’s Investigation a Red Herring
A national mental health watchdog says that with $1 billion spent on Victoria’s mental health system, patient deaths should be prevented. The Citizens Commission on Human Rights (CCHR) said the Chief Psychiatrist’s investigation of the deaths is a red herring and called for an independent Royal Commission, including into the Health Department’s neglect.
CCHR executive director Shelley Wilkins said the Health Department’s response to 36 patient deaths in psychiatric facilities, suppression orders on information about the deaths and excessive psychotropic drug prescriptions parallels the NSW Health Department’s 1980s’ fiasco dealing with the Deep Sleep Treatment (DST) deaths. Then, the Department acted only after the Sydney Morning Herald/Age exposed the deaths in an unprecedented series, acknowledged as helping bring about a Royal Commission.
There were 48 DST deaths over more than a decade, an average of 4 a year. In Victoria, the annual death rate is four times greater. Writing in The Age, Dr. Ruth Vine, Chief Psychiatrist, is already an apologist for the deaths, claiming that mental health legislation ensures there are checks and balances in the system to protect the rights of individuals. But the Department is acting only because the media has disclosed the facts. “How many more patients could have died were it not for public disclosure,” Wilkins said. “We cannot trust the Department to be objective about its own neglect; it needs a Royal Commission.” CCHR, which spearheaded the Royal Commission into the NSW DST deaths said the frightening parallel between Health Department inaction then and now, includes:
Family members not notified about a death until hours later. Excessive dosages of antipsychotics causing death. Deadly restraint procedures. Whistleblowers exposing unethical and illegal practices.
In 1990 Justice John Slattery overseeing the Royal Commission into Deep Sleep, said, “No one expects the treatment of psychiatric patients to be terminal…Treatment should not kill a patient nor should a patient die in the course of, or as a result of, his psychiatric treatment.” DST is banned under the NSW Mental Health Act with a criminal penalty if administered.
CCHR wants the Victorian Mental Health Act to include any drug or restraint procedure resulting in death to be referred to police for investigation and prosecution.
CCHR was established in 1969 by the Church of Scientology and Dr. Thomas Szasz, professor of psychiatry.
Contact Shelley Wilkins at CCHR on 02 9964-9844.