The Age – July 1, 2011
by Kate Hagen
MORE than 200 psychiatric patients died in ”unexpected, unnatural or violent” circumstances last year, a report by Victoria’s chief psychiatrist reveals.
Six patients died by committing suicide in hospital but most of the 237 deaths occurred in the community.
Chief psychiatrist Ruth Vine could not provide a breakdown of the number of deaths that occurred inside hospitals but said it was ”very small, and when it does occur it is followed by a very thorough review”.
Dr Vine said deaths in the community could include those due to car accidents or house fires, but it was the role of the coroner to determine their cause.
The Age reported in February that a coroner was investigating the deaths of two psychiatric patients thought to have suffocated while being restrained in separate incidents at Frankston and Dandenong hospitals in 2007.
Dr Vine said she was ”of course” concerned about the suicides of psychiatric patients but believed they were impossible to completely prevent.
”If you compare a mental health inpatient unit with a coronary care unit, in terms of the severity of mental illness we’re treating it is equally severe,” she said.
”It is impossible to prevent completely because suicide is a choice and to completely prevent suicide would be to impose an incredible level of restriction on care that would be anti-therapeutic.”
Dr Vine’s annual report for 2009-10 shows that 14 per cent of inpatients were secluded, or confined in a room locked from the outside, in what guidelines say should be used only when a patient poses an immediate risk to himself or others.
A total of 1828 patients were secluded and there were 6059 episodes of seclusion, up slightly from the previous year. More than 1100 were for longer than 12 hours.
A total of 1750 patients received electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), including 83 children, the youngest of whom was 13.