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December 3, 2021

Labor calls for inquiry after Lismore hospital mental unit death

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The NSW opposition is calling for an urgent parliamentary inquiry into NSW’s Mental Health facilities following the death of a mentally ill patient in Lismore’s Adult Mental Health Unit.

CCTV footage released yesterday showed the mentally ill patient wandering naked and covered in faeces, falling at least 25 times.

The patient, Miriam Merton, died from a brain injury the following day.

But the Northern NSW Local Health District (NNSW LHD) has denied there has been a cover-up.

A coronial inquest found that Ms Merton was locked in a secluded room and left unattended by nurses for more than five hours, with no access to water or a toilet.

The inquest further found that health protocols were significantly breached with nurses failing to physically assess the patient’s temperature, pulse, respiration and blood pressure when in isolation.

The state government last week announced a review into mental health policies and procedures as a result of the 2014 incident.

NNSW LHD CEO Wayne Jones said he ‘welcomed the review’, adding the health service was ‘always open’ about what happened to Ms Merton.

‘Let me stress there has been absolutely no cover-up in this,’ he told ABC radio.

‘We provided open and full disclosure to Ms Merton’s guardian and father concerning the details of her death.’

NSW opposition mental health spokesperson, Tania Mihailuk is calling for a full inquiry into mental health services in the state after the death of a patient at Lismore Base Hospital. File photo
NSW opposition mental health spokesperson, Tania Mihailuk is calling for a full inquiry into mental health services in the state after the death of a patient at Lismore Base Hospital. File photo

Don Dale moment

But NSW shadow minister for mental health Tania Mihailuk said that the NSW Government had ‘failed to adequately respond to such appalling abuse of a mentally ill patient in care’, and a parliamentary inquiry was ‘urgently needed to assess the level of resourcing and staffing of NSW’s mental health facilities.’

‘This is the Don Dale moment for the NSW mental health system – it is sickening and appalling that a mentally ill patient, in desperate need of assistance, was treated so inhumanely.

‘Despite this mentally ill patient dying over two years ago, the NSW Government has failed to provide an adequate response to such abhorrent mistreatment and abuse.

‘Premier Berejiklian must immediately order an urgent parliamentary inquiry into the resourcing and capacity of mental health facilities across our state.

‘The community needs assurances from the NSW Government that there have not been systemic breaches of patient care guidelines in our state’s mental health facilities.

‘We need to hear firsthand from mentally ill patients, their families, staff, and from within the sector, to ensure that such mistreatment is not widespread within the sector.

‘The government should apologise to the family and ensure that there is a full and transparent review of the circumstances which led to this tragedy.

‘The minister for mental health should immediately outline what measures this government will be undertaking to ensure that no other mental health patient dies in such tragic circumstances while receiving treatment in care,’ Ms Mihailuk said.

The last parliamentary inquiry into mental health services in NSW was in 2001.


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