Glenside Hospital

31 May 2006 questionsarchive

I seek leave to make a brief explanation before asking the Minister for Mental Health and Substance Abuse a question about drug and alcohol consumption by patients at Glenside.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: I remind the council that questions were asked in this place and in the other place in November last year, and in this place again on 2 and 3 May.

The Hon. Carmel Zollo interjecting:

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: Indeed, we have not yet had a response to those questions; we are still waiting.

The PRESIDENT: Order! The honourable member will continue with her explanation.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: On 3 May, in response to questions I asked of the minister in relation to this topic, the minister chided me when she said:

To suggest that they [the staff at Glenside] are somehow turning a blind eye to a fairly significant problem is nothing short of a disgrace. . . if the honourable member has evidence or allegations of any mispropriety whatsoever she has a responsibility to draw that to my attention.

I am aware of an incident in November last year in which a fellow by the name of Danny Bradley breached his conditions.

Mr Bradley was charged with the murder of his de facto in March 1996 and was found by the court to be unfit to stand trial, pursuant to section 269M of the Criminal Law Consolidation Act. He was subsequently ordered to be committed to the mental health system for life. His initial order was to be detained at James Nash House in secure custody. He has since been transferred to Glenside and has progressively been granted wider leave privileges, including unaccompanied leave, to enable him to visit his mother.

Mr Bradley was granted unescorted leave for the period 18 to 23 November last year. One of the conditions of his leave was that he was not to consume alcohol or illicit drugs. On return from leave he stated that he had been to a hotel but had consumed only mineral water. However, a blood alcohol reading demonstrated that his blood alcohol level was 0.078 some five hours after the incident. My questions are:

1. Is the minister routinely advised by her department of breaches of leave privileges by Glenside detainees?

2. Will the minister assure the parliament that public safety was not compromised by this particular incident or, indeed, any incidents in relation to alcohol or illicit drugs by Glenside detainees?

3. When will the minister ask for a review of practices at Glenside in relation to drug and alcohol consumption?

The Hon. G.E. GAGO(Minister for Mental Health and Substance Abuse): I have spoken before in this place about these issues. It is always a challenge to balance individual needs with community needs. The aim of our mental health system is to get people well enough through rehabilitation services to re-enter and function well in, and contribute to, society. When clinicians assess that a person is stable, often they are placed in open wards. Most of these patients comply with their detention orders voluntarily. I underline that—

Members interjecting:


The Hon. G.E. GAGO: Most patients comply voluntarily with their detention orders. I am advised on a regular basis of the status of clients at Glenside, and I am advised when clients abscond from Glenside. Also, I have been advised that the number of clients who have absconded from Glenside has decreased over the past few years. Absconding is predominantly from open wards and involves ground leave. Further, I am advised that clinical risk assessments are made as to whether a person could become a danger to themselves or others. That assessment is done on a case by case basis.

I have mentioned before in this place—and I can only emphasise again—that the government’s approach to mental health is about affirming the rights, dignity and civil liberties of mental health consumers and their carers, while balancing this with the broader interests of the community, particularly in relation to safety. That is this why this government has established a Health and Community Services Complaints Commissioner, who can be called on independently to assess health services and make sure they are delivered in a safe and proper way. I will not add to the stigmatisation—

Members interjecting:


The Hon. G.E. GAGO: They need to listen, Mr President.

The PRESIDENT: The minister will not be repeating herself next week if we listen now.

The Hon. G.E. GAGO: I will not add to the stigmatisation of mental health issues by commenting on individual cases and allowing people to be named in this place in this way. I am, however, prepared to discuss systemic issues. I have given a commitment to work with the department to make any necessary improvements, and I do not resile from that. I have asked members in this place, including the opposition spokesperson for mental health, to help to reduce the stigmatisation of mental illness by not using people’s names in this chamber. I have said before that, if a member has any concerns and details of a particular case on which they want information, they are free to contact me and I am more than willing to follow up the issue. The honourable member has not done that in this case.

Often people with mental illness are some of the most vulnerable in our community, and she has used this person yet again—political opportunism at its worse. If she was genuinely concerned about the potential harm to our community, why would she wait until question time in this chamber to raise these issues? It is a disgrace! I invited her to contact my office if she had any security concerns at all.

She has failed to do it and has not contacted me or my office, as far as I am aware. Instead, she has used this as a political issue.

I take this opportunity to read from a letter on this issue from the Chair of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists, dated 11 May. The second paragraph states:

On behalf of the college branch I would like to congratulate you on the response you gave, as you stated naming individual consumers in the house breaches privacy and adds to the stigmatisation of mental health consumers. You also wisely [my emphasis] note that these vulnerable individuals can readily turn into a political football.

Your distinction between the terms ‘absconded’ and ‘escaped’ is also appreciated in the quest for destigmatisation language.

I could go on, but I will not. I invite members opposite, if they have any concerns in relation to particular mental health consumer cases, to contact me or my office at any time and I will be more than happy to follow up the matter. I have taken the details of the case and will follow it up and will provide a response to the honourable member.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: By way of supplementary question, what actions has the minister taken during the term of her appointment as minister to ensure that these breaches do not occur?

The Hon. G.E. GAGO: As individual cases are brought to the attention of me and my department, they are investigated through a rigorous process, of which members are well aware. Any issues that are identified through that process are actioned, and those actions are implemented. We continue to improve safety at Glenside. As I have already reported here today, we have reduced the number of consumers absconding from Glenside. Obviously, some of the strategies we are putting in place are working.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: I ask a further supplementary question. Will the minister advise whether the procedures and protocols differ between those who are detained under section 269 of the Criminal Law Consolidation Act as opposed to those who have been detained under the Mental Health Act?

The PRESIDENT: Order! That question hardly arises from the answer given by the minister.