www.mhcc.vic.gov.au

Alex and Nerida - Communication and public mental health services

Complaint story about communication in a Victorian public mental health service.

Please note: this complaint story includes an instance of self-injury and a serious car accident.

What Alex and Nerida told us

Alex drove himself to hospital as he was thinking about self-harming and suicide. A staff member told him that that he could either drive himself to a different part of the service for assessment or come inside the emergency department and ‘wait your turn like everyone else’. Alex said he had taken medication and was unsafe to drive, but the staff member told him he seemed ‘fine’.

Alex called his mother, Nerida. She tried to explain to the staff member that Alex was very distressed and had a history of suicide attempts, but did not feel listened to. Alex then left the hospital and had a car accident, in which he was seriously injured.

Afterwards, Nerida made a complaint to the hospital about the staff member’s communication, specifically their lack of empathy and compassion. She was unhappy with the response, however, so contacted the MHCC.

Alex and Nerida’s rights

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

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.

Alex had the right to expect this when he went to the hospital.  Nerida also felt she wasn’t listened to by hospital staff when the principles say:

k)  Carers (including children) for people receiving mental health services should be involved in decisions about assessment, treatment and recovery, whenever this is possible.

l)  Carers (including children) for people receiving mental health services should have their role recognised, respected and supported.

What we did

We assessed that Nerida’s complaint, which Alex consented to, raised serious questions about the hospital’s provision of compassionate and responsive mental health services. We requested it provide a written response to the complaint and followed this up with a facilitated meeting between staff and Alex and Nerida. 

In the meeting, Alex and Nerida explained the negative impact of their experiences. The service representatives apologised. They also outlined several improvements they were making in response to their complaint, including:

  • moving the short-term treatment team closer to the emergency department
  • creating a quiet room in the emergency department for staff to talk to consumers, and 
  • training all staff on being more responsive to consumer and carer views.

The staff member involved was also given individual counselling and training.

Outcomes

After the meeting Alex and Nerida told us that the hospital’s acknowledgment, apology and actions regarding their experiences had addressed and resolved their concerns. We closed the complaint on this basis. We also highlighted the broader systemic issues of people not receiving appropriate mental health care at emergency departments to the Royal Commission into Victoria's Mental Health System and the Productivity Commission’s mental health inquiry.

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

Reviewed 21 April 2021

Mental Health Complaints Commissioner (MHCC)

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