No action taken against Victoria’s mental health services despite over 12,000 complaints | Mental Health

After receiving more than 12,000 complaints about Victoria’s mental health services, the state regulator has taken no compliance action against a single mental health care provider in seven years.

This is despite the Royal Commission into Victoria’s mental health sector last year which found systemic breaches of the law and human rights across the system.

Annual reports from Victoria’s Mental Health Complaints Commissioner (MHCC) showed that in the seven years since it was established in July 2014, it received 14,160 inquiries, of which 12,470 were complaints. Yet no notices of compliance have been issued, although the CSMC has regulatory powers to force suppliers to improve.

The MHCC is an independent body that resolves complaints about Victoria’s public mental health services and makes recommendations for improvement.

Complaint reports from MHCC service providers, obtained under freedom of information, show that some mental health services are not reporting complaint outcome data, in breach of the Mental Health Act of the state (2014).

Simon Katterl, a human rights and mental health consultant who obtained the reports, said it was “simply incredible” that more than 12,000 complaints did not warrant a compliance notice.

“We had a regulator in place for eight years during a human rights crisis, but we have no evidence that he acted during that crisis,” he said.

“You can tell by the regulator’s lack of transparency and lack of use of its powers.”

Katterl said that while complaints data alone could not always give a clear picture of what is happening in a service – forensic mental health services, for example, have a higher number of complaints in because of the complexity of their care – it was nevertheless data that the public had a right to access.

“The public deserves this information so they can make more informed decisions about the care they receive,” he said. “They deserve transparency.”

A MHCC spokesperson said it regularly works through “a range of processes” with departments to resolve issues and improvements identified in the complaints and investigations process.

“Services have cooperated with our processes and to date, a compliance notice has not been required to achieve this outcome,” the spokesperson said.

The state’s leading mental health organization said it had “genuine concerns” about the MHCC’s lack of enforcement.

Victorian Mental Illness Awareness Council chief executive Craig Wallace said an ‘unwillingness to rock the boat with service providers’ was most likely to blame for the regulator’s lack of action against non-compliant providers who did not provide complete complaint outcome data.

The chief executive of Mind Australia – a community mental health provider, Gill Callister, said it was vital that people with mental health issues, their families and carers have access to “information about performance and ‘approach’ to the mental health services they access .

“For many people, a lack of transparency reinforces the idea that they are sitting at the bottom of the pile in terms of priority, even when seeking information about their own care,” she said.

The royal commission recommended the creation of a new mental health and wellbeing commission to monitor the government’s implementation of the survey reform. The scathing report found the overburdened system was crisis-driven and not designed to support people living with psychological distress or mental illness.

In one case, a mental health service received 60 complaints per 1,000 patients with the MHCC in 2018-2019, and 57 complaints per 1,000 patients the following year.

“Treatment was the most common issue raised in complaints,” one of the reports said. “Staff responsiveness was frequently raised…and included insufficient consideration of consumer, family and carer perspectives, as well as a lack of care and attention.”

“Suboptimal treatment [quality of treatment] was also frequently raised, particularly with the MHCC, with the most frequently raised suboptimal treatment issue for MHCC complaints being disagreement with the treatment order.

A government spokesman said the new commission would include people with lived experience who would have an increased scope to investigate complaints.

“The current MHCC uses a range of resolution tactics to resolve issues raised by complaints – including formal conciliation which ensures complainants can continue to engage with the mental health system over the long term,” said the spokesperson.

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