Mental Health ACT Official Visitors

Annual Report 2012‑13


Mental Health Official Visitors are appointed by the Minister for Health to visit and inspect psychiatric inpatient facilities and make inquiries as to the care and treatment of patients, as set out in the Mental Health (Treatment and Care) Act 1994. Matters covered include:

  • the adequacy of services for the assessment and treatment of persons with mental dysfunction or a mental illness
  • the appropriateness of recreation, occupation, education, training and rehabilitation services
  • whether services are provided in the least restrictive environment possible and in the least intrusive manner possible
  • any contraventions of the Mental Health (Treatment and Care) Act
  • any complaint received from a person receiving treatment and care for mental illness or dysfunction.

Currently, Mental Health Official Visitors’ roles cover the mental health services provided at the Brian Hennessy Rehabilitation Centre (BHRC), Ward 2N, the Older Persons Mental Health Inpatient Unit (OPMHIU) and Hyson Green (providing private mental services) at Calvary Public Hospital, as well as the Adult Mental Health Unit (AMHU), formerly the Psychiatric Services Unit (PSU), at Canberra Hospital.

The Official Visitors enjoyed attending the New South Wales Official Visitors Conference in Sydney as guests of the New South Wales service in August. This served as an important liaison activity, and Official Visitors benefited from the educative function of the conference as well as from the informal discussions about the Official Visitor role.

The Principal Official Visitor was reappointed during this period and one Official Visitor resigned.


Since December 2002, the Official Visitors have operated a monthly pre-determined schedule of formal visits to each of the facilities. Prior notice of the visit is given to the facility to reinforce a cooperative as opposed to an inspectorial approach with unit staff. In 2012‑13, Official Visitors made 60 scheduled formal visits to the five mental health facilities.

Formal visits by the Official Visitors were supplemented by follow-up visits as required. Other visits were made on request by patients of the facilities following contact either by telephone or through messages left in the Official Visitors’ suggestion boxes, which are located in the facilities.

A duty telephone service is provided to the public. This requires a mobile telephone to be staffed on a roster basis by the Official Visitors. A log of the calls is maintained by each rostered Official Visitor and responses to concerns sometimes include a visit to the care facility. Contact details for mental health services such as the Mental Health Crisis Team are provided if deemed appropriate.

Staff at the facilities have been extremely cooperative and open with the Official Visitors. In many instances, staff have gone out of their way to assist the Official Visitors in carrying out their duties. Detailed reports are provided to the team leaders and to senior mental health staff after each visit. The reports summarise all matters raised during the visits by patients and staff and discussed with the team leader. Half-yearly reports are provided to the Minister for Health.

Adequacy of assessment and treatment services

ACT Mental Health and its staff are committed to improving the quality of care at all facilities. The staff at the facilities endeavour to improve the experiences of their patients and to develop practices and procedures aimed at the long-term benefit of patients. After more than a year of operating, the AMHU at Canberra Hospital continued to be favourably commented on by many consumers.

The Official Visitors continue to be impressed by Hyson Green and the OPMHIU, which present as very well equipped and well staffed. Both are modern, light, spacious and designed for comfort and safety. For the first time in three years, Hyson Green remained open during the Christmas period. The OPMHIU and BHRC facilitate their staff accompanying patients into the community after discharge and assisting in their follow-up.

Calvary Ward 2N provides a wide range of activities for their patients, including discussion groups. Positive comments are consistently received from consumers at the unit. Staff are favourably mentioned and generally the patients comment that they experience a calm and pleasant stay. The new smoking bans have not posed too many problems.

Appropriateness of recreation, occupation, education, training and rehabilitation services

Each facility operates a range of these types of programs and made changes in 2012‑13 to improve the relevance and effectiveness of these activities. The general direction is to enhance the services provided.

BHRC’s rehabilitation and recreation focus is on patient participation in community programs outside the facility—for example, activities at the Belconnen Community Centre. Patients are encouraged to commence external courses. Within the facility, programs tailored to individual patient needs are offered, such as healthy cooking lessons, media studies, relaxation techniques and gardening. Computer access is also available. Consumer meetings have been held regularly. The facility has been challenged by managing forensic patients.

Calvary Ward 2N has daily activities on weekdays for all patients and was recently commended by an accreditation team for its community engagement. Group programs run by Ward 2N and Hyson Green are very popular with inpatients and outpatients. The OPMHIU encourages patients to be as active and independent as possible, although activities are restricted by the age and disabilities of consumers.

Whether services are provided in the least restrictive environment possible

Inpatients in psychiatric facilities are admitted on a voluntary or involuntary basis. Enforcing involuntary detention involves a reduction of an individual’s freedom while treating their mental illness. Patient safety is a paramount concern, as is the safety of the staff involved. While all facilities must primarily assist patients to improve their mental health, they focus on enhancing the skills patients need to reintegrate into the community and aim to discourage dependency on inpatient facilities and reduce the duration of their admission time.

The AMHU continued to emphasise reducing both the frequency and the duration of seclusion, and during visits this year it was very evident that the rate of seclusion in the facility had been reduced.

Commendably, BHRC has made many efforts to ensure its consumers are integrated where possible into community-based programs to facilitate their transition from the facility into the community.

Any contraventions of the Mental Health (Treatment and Care) Act

No contraventions have come to the attention of the Official Visitors.

Complaints received from persons receiving treatment and care for mental illness or dysfunction

In general, patients and their carers provide positive feedback about their experiences in the facilities. Issues taken up with and acted on by the units include:

  • treatment issues
  • maintenance and cleanliness issues
  • smoking bans
  • discharge plans
  • lack of stimulation
  • gym access
  • physical facilities
  • access to staff or perceived inadequacies in treatment and interpersonal relationships
  • adequacy or otherwise of food provided for patients
  • any developing trends—for example, in Absence Without Leave (AWOL), electro-convulsive therapy (ECT) treatment numbers and seclusions.

Reports to the Minister for Health

The Principal Official Visitor provided the following written reports to the Minister for Health:

  • two half-yearly reports for the reporting year.

Mental Health Official Visitors

People working as Mental Health Official Visitors during the period were:

  • Sue Connor, Principal Official Visitor
  • Pamela Burton, Official Visitor
  • Kay Barralet, Official Visitor
  • Shannon Pickles, Official Visitor.

Average length of service by gender


Average length of service (years) Female Male Total
0–2 1 1 2
2–4 0 0 0
4–6 0 0 0
6–8 1 0 1
8–12 1 0 1


Total average length of service by gender


Gender Average length of service
Female 7 years, 3 months
Male 1.5 years
Total 5.5 years



Sue Connor signature

Sue Connor
Principal Official Visitor
14 July 2013