Sam and coronavirus (COVID-19) - public mental health services

Complaint story about the impact of coronavirus (COVID-19) in a Victorian public mental health service.

Please note: this complaint story is about experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic, including lack of choice.

What Sam told us

Sam called us after being admitted to an inpatient unit during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. He was feeling very stressed by the tense atmosphere in the unit as well as its restrictions, such as not being able to get food of his choice, or to go outside to smoke. He felt that his treating team was not considering his previous diagnoses, or the best ways to support him.

Sam’s rights

Victoria’s Mental Health Act 2014 and its principles protect the rights of people like Sam who are receiving mental health treatment from a public mental health service.

Services must continue to consider the mental health principles when implementing COVID-19 Public Health Directives and restrictions.

The relevant principles for Sam say:

a) People receiving mental health services should be provided assessment and treatment in the least restrictive way possible with voluntary assessment and treatment preferred.

c) People receiving mental health services should be involved in all decisions about their assessment, treatment and recovery and be supported to make, or participate in, those decisions, and their views and preferences should be respected.

g) People receiving mental health services should have their individual needs (whether as to culture, language, communication, age, disability, religion, gender, sexuality or other matters) recognised and responded to.

What we did

We talked to the Nurse Unit Manager about what Sam wanted, including for the service to find ways to reduce the negative impacts of the COVID-19 restrictions on consumers. The Nurse Unit Manager spoke with Sam, considered his concerns and agreed to increase:

  • the availability and choice of food for consumers
  • access to leave for smoking and supports for quitting, and
  • staff engagement with consumers, despite the difficulties of COVID-19.

The Nurse Unit Manager acknowledged that staff had not been responsive to Sam’s needs and preferences for treatment, and the stress being experienced by consumers in the unit. She also talked to Sam about the value of having an Advance Statement, which could help to guide his treating team and other staff if he was admitted again in the future. The Clinical Director confirmed that all of the improvement actions would be undertaken.


Sam told us that his concerns had been heard and addressed by the service and the MHCC. He felt pleased that in helping himself and other consumers, he had also contributed to the broader COVID-19 mental health response. This is because, from the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the MHCC has shared information from complaints with the Department of Health and the Office of the Chief Psychiatrist. This has helped ensure that guidance given to mental health services during the pandemic is directly informed by people’s views and experiences.

Please note: names and some details in this complaint story have been omitted to protect the identity of those involved.

Reviewed 09 June 2021

Mental Health Complaints Commissioner (MHCC)

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