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SA Health refuses to outline risks to mental health patients

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SA Health is refusing to say whether the same safety risks that forced the closure of an “appalling” mental health facility in the northern suburbs last year also exist at other services around Adelaide.

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The department has declined to release any findings from its review into whether mental health units in the Central Adelaide Local Health Network (CALHN), which includes the Royal Adelaide Hospital, the Queen Elizabeth Hospital and Glenside, feature dangerous ‘ligature points’ that risk enabling suicide.

Late last year, SA Health ordered the immediate closure of the Lyell McEwin Hospital’s mental health short stay unit after a union safety inspection reported concern over a number of “extremely obvious ligature points”, which some patients had used to try to take their own lives.

Early this month, SA Health referred the death by apparent suicide of a mental health patient within the Royal Adelaide Hospital to Coroner Mark Johns for investigation.

During the final days of the state election campaign, the Liberal Party accused the Weatherill Government of hiding a Royal Adelaide Hospital accreditation report. Last week, new Health Minister Stephen Wade released that report, which recommended that: “risks identified in Mental Health Service ligature audit be actioned”.

SA Health told InDaily the audit could not be released because its publication could increase safety risks for mental health patients.

“The CALHN ligature review cannot be publicly released as it contains sensitive information that could be used by vulnerable people to inflict harm on themselves,” a spokesperson for the department said.

“As part of our commitment to ongoing safety and quality and to identify any potential risks to patient safety, all of our sites continually review mental health facilities on an ongoing basis.

“Through these reviews, we take action to mitigate any such risks including modifying potential ligature points, decreasing rates of seclusion and limiting the use of restrictive practices.”

InDaily subsequently requested a redacted version of the report that would mask specific details that may place patients at increased risk, but SA Health said it could not release that either.

InDaily finally asked for very broad details of the audit including when it was commissioned and whether similar audits had also been conducted in the Southern Adelaide Local Health Network or the Northern Adelaide Local Health Network, where the now closed Lyell McEwin short stay unit is located.

“All LHNs undertake regular ligature audits of their mental health facilities at least once a year,” said the spokesperson in response. 

“The audits review ligature risks both within secure areas of facilities and those parts accessible to the general public.”

Wade has not responded to a request for comment.

Mental Health Coalition executive director Geoff Harris told InDaily this morning that: “What we want to know is that SA Health is taking all steps to ensure safety of mental health patients.”

“What progress has been made to address the issues in the report? and when is it going to be finished?

“We support transparency and accountability but … we’re more focused on making sure that any issues are being fixed.”

If this article has raised issues for you, you can call LifeLine on 13 11 14 – or you can call the Mental Health Triage Service / Assessment and Crisis Intervention Service on 13 14 65.

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