Minister for Health Brad Hazzard and Minister for Mental Health Tanya Davies have directed that the State’s Chief Psychiatrist review the policy and practice of seclusion, restraints and observations across the entire NSW mental health system, in response to the death of 46-year-old Lismore patient Myriam Merten.
The review will be conducted by NSW Chief Psychiatrist Dr Murray Wright with the assistance of the Principal Official Visitor, Karen Lenihan and an international expert in mental health nursing, Kevin Huckshorn.
“NSW’s Chief Psychiatrist Dr Murray Wright has the complete backing of the NSW Government and the NSW community to review the system from top to bottom, both practice and culture across the board,” Mr Hazzard said.
“The circumstances surrounding Ms Merten’s treatment and subsequent death in 2014 are shocking, and the lack of humanity in her care astounding.”
Mr Hazzard said as well as the medical review by the Chief Psychiatrist, the Government would ask the current Parliamentary Inquiry into the Management of Health Care Delivery in NSW to re-open its submissions to allow mental health care to be addressed.
Mrs Davies said while the Ministry of Health said that staffing, training, policies and procedures had been strengthened at Lismore and mental health units across the state, the NSW Government wanted to ensure that every measure possible was taken to protect vulnerable mental health patients.
“Ms Merten had her dignity denied, she was confused and distressed. She needed attention, care and compassion. Every part of this horrific incident is completely unacceptable,” Mrs Davies said.
“The circumstances have caused untold distress to her family, and also other families who are worried whether their loved ones with mental health conditions requiring acute care are being cared for humanely.”
The NSW Coroner found that in 2014, Ms Merten hit her head at least 20 times while in seclusion at Lismore Hospital’s adult mental health unit. The two nurses were stood down and did not return to employment in NSW Health. The Coroner’s inquest, and an investigation by the Health Care Complaints Commission also found the two nurses responsible for monitoring Ms Merten that night guilty of professional misconduct.