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Byron Shire
May 16, 2021

Merten death review won’t prevent another death

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CCTV footage released by the coroner shows Lismore Base Hospital Mental Health Unit patient wandering the hospital corridors naked and alone before collapsing and dying.

The Justice Action group, a community group of solicitors and mental health advocates, have said the review of the death of patient Miriam Merten at Lismore Hospital is a ‘whitewash’.

‘The Review by the Chief Psychiatrist made very serious criticisms of the NSW Mental Health System, but didn’t make a single recommendation that would prevent its reoccurrence,’ said Justice Action Coordinator Brett Collins.

‘The 19 Recommendations missed the point entirely, just offering more money without changing any of the dynamics. That is unsurprising as the problems are deep-seated cultural ones, and the so called independent review is by insiders who are part of the system.’

The review was called following calls from nursing staff, local politicians and the Labor opposition after footage was released by a coronial inquiry in 2016 of Ms Merten being left naked and having numerous falls while in a seclusion cell with no access to water for almost six hours.

‘The Review agreed that the NSW Mental Health System culture lacked compassion and humanity (p7) or real interest in the individual beyond risk management (p22). The System used coercive compliance, had no internal oversight even after the Merten death (p29), lacked guidelines, had little evidence of engagement with consumers and carers (p35), little involvement in care plans (p.36), had no examples of the necessary leadership required to give high-quality compassionate care (p24). The Review said that peer worker support was very limited with rare access despite being a vital resource to lessen seclusion and restraint (p33),’ said Mr Collins.

The Justice Action group is calling for the removal of legislative protections such as s.195 Act, computers and phones in seclusion areas, alternatives to forced treatment, and independent consumer advocacy with mandated peer worker roles.

‘These interventions cost nothing while returning power to the person at the centre of the concern rather than remaining with callous staff and indifferent managers. We owe that to our own self-respect as well as to future distressed and vulnerable Miriam Mertens’ said Mr Collins.


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