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Mental Health Official Visitors Program

Mental Health Official Visitors are members of the community who are appointed to visit approved hospitals and the secure mental health unit at the Wilfred Lopes Centre in Risdon, to check on the way in which people with mental illness are being treated. They also investigate complaints made to them by people receiving care and treatment in these facilities for mental illness.

The Official Visitors operate independently from the Department of Health and Human Services and its mental health branch, Mental Health and Statewide Services. Consistently with their independence, their administrative support is provided by the Office of the Ombudsman and Health Complaints Commissioner.

The same staff are used to administer both the Prison Official Visitors Scheme and the Mental Health Official Visitor Scheme.

The following text is taken from my Annual Report as Ombudsman for 2009/10.

Annual Report 2009/10 

Mental Health Official Visitors are appointed under the provisions of part 11 of the Mental Health Act 1996 (the Act).

Official Visitors have an oversight role in respect of the accommodation, assessment, treatment and care of persons with mental illness in approved hospitals and the secure mental health unit (the Wilfred Lopes Centre). Visitors also examine the opportunities for recreation, education and training for persons with mental illness who are patients in approved hospitals.

Official Visitors have responsibility for investigating suspected contraventions of the Act in the care or treatment of persons with mental illness, for visiting patients, and for investigating complaints made by persons receiving care or treatment for mental illness.

Official Visitors visit approved hospitals and the Wilfred Lopes Centre in accordance with s 77 of the Act, which requires visits to be made at least once a month. Visits are usually made by a panel of two visitors.

Visits were made each month to the Wilfred Lopes Centre and the following approved hospitals during the reporting year:

  • the Royal Hobart Hospital, including the Department of Psychological Medicine, the Psychiatric Intensive Care Unit and the Emergency Department
  • the Roy Fagan Centre
  • the Millbrook Rise Centre
  • the Launceston General Hospital, including Northside Clinic and the Emergency Department
  • the North West Regional Hospital, including the Spencer Clinic and the Emergency Department.

Additional visits were also made to these facilities to visit patients who had made complaints.

In accordance with s 81 of the Act, I provide a report to the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services on or before 31 August each year on the visits and investigations made by the Official Visitors in the course of the previous financial year, and on the results of those visits and investigations.

During the course of the year, I also provide a report to Mental Health and Statewide Services following the routine monthly visits to approved hospitals. This report outlines issues of interest and concern that have been raised by patients with Official Visitors and other issues which Official Visitors have brought to my attention. 

Complaints

Under s 75 (f) of the Act, Official Visitors investigate complaints made by persons receiving care or treatment for mental illness.

During 2009/10, a total of 98 complaints were received from patients in approved hospitals or the secure mental health unit during routine monthly visits. The majority of these complaints were resolved following discussion with relevant clinical staff.

In addition a total of 151 complaints were received from patients outside of the routine monthly visits. Once again, the majority of these complaints were resolved following discussion with relevant clinical staff.

Eleven complaints required further investigation and I requested written explanations from Mental Health and Statewide Services on these occasions. I reported six of these complaints to the Mental Health Tribunal as suspected contraventions of the Act, as required by s 79 of the Act.

I note that my oversight of the Scheme intersects well with my role as Health Complaints Commissioner. There have been occasions when I have considered taking on matters as Commissioner which have become known to me through my work with the Scheme; there have also been occasions when complaints which have come to me as Commissioner have been addressed through referral to Official Visitors

Staffing Issues

During 2009/10, two Visitors resigned, and one did not request reappointment. Two Visitors have been reappointed for a further term.

As at 30 June 2010, and excluding the Manager Official Visitors and myself, there were nine Visitors. Four of these were in the North of the state, and five in the South. I advertised for expressions of interest in all regional newspapers and, following an interview process, five persons were recommended for appointment.

In the reporting year, I hosted a Statewide meeting of Visitors, and also a two-day Statewide training exercise.

Short training exercises were also held with Visitors from both the North and South of the State when they met for their regular regional meetings.

Conclusion

The Mental Health Official Visitors Scheme has operated very effectively during the year under review, and the transfer of the Scheme to my Office has proven to be very satisfactory. The staff of the Scheme obtain the benefit of collocation with an integrity agency which has professional staff who can give them peer support and advice, and the work of the Scheme has considerable relevance to my work as Health Complaints Commissioner.

The amalgamation of the administration of the Mental Health and Prison Official Visitor Schemes under a single manager has also provided administrative efficiencies and other benefits including training opportunities, with no detriment to either Scheme.

I am also pleased to report that both of the Schemes operated within the budget allocation for the year, with no deficit or surplus.

I record my appreciation to all the Official Visitors in both Schemes who have given their time and effort over the last year of what is an important and challenging role. They have become an important part of the overall oversight responsibilities of my office.

I also particularly thank the Mental Health Official Visitors for their assistance in achieving a smooth transition of their scheme to my office.

1800 001 170

Contact Details

9.00am to 5pm (Hobart time) weekdays.

Free call from landline phones anywhere in Tasmania, but call charges may apply from a mobile phone.

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