A major North Queensland hospital says two patients in its acute mental health unit were “inappropriately touched” by another patient in the past fortnight.
The Townsville Hospital and Health Service’s confirmation emerged after evidence was given at a Senate inquiry last week, which included other concerns about the safety of sexual assault victims admitted to the city’s Adult Acute Mental Health Inpatient Unit (AAMHIU).
It also follows three separate incidents at the AAMHIU in the past few months, including the “unexpected death” of a patient in July.
The ABC understands the patient died after staff tried to restrain him.
In August, the hospital said a junior staff member brought a knife to work and gave it to a mental health patient, who used it to cook food.
The hospital also said it ordered an “urgent review” of violence and security resources in the mental health units in June, and temporarily hired two additional guards, after staff raised the issue of safety at a monthly meeting.
In these cases, the hospital said staff were temporarily suspended, referred to the Office of the Health Ombudsman, or offered alternative duties as investigations into all matters continued.
Unit ‘not safe for our most vulnerable’: Women’s Centre
In the latest incident, Townsville health service chief executive Kieran Keyes said a male patient “inappropriately touched” a female and male patient “in a short space of time” last month.
“Both consumers were supported to make a complaint to the Queensland Police Service,” Mr Keyes said.
“They were also supported by their treating teams.”
Mr Keyes said he was unaware of any other allegations of this nature at the AAMHIU.
Townsville Women’s Centre co-ordinator Catherine Crawford gave evidence at the Senate inquiry into accessibility and quality of mental health services in rural and remote Australia.
It included concerns about the safety of sexual assault clients at the mental health unit.
“In terms of where we’re at with services, we’re at the absolute bottom of how safe is someone. Not their wellbeing – we’re not there yet – it’s their actual safety,” Ms Crawford told the inquiry.
Ms Crawford said it was not safe when men and women were in same area together at the mental health unit, with only a curtain, at times, separating them.
“That is not safe for our most vulnerable,” Ms Crawford said.
“We’re mixing people that commit crimes of sexual predation with people who get sexually assaulted, as well as those people who commit those crimes.”
She said the mental health outreach services lacked consistency, staff and resources.
Hospital ‘takes patient safety very seriously’
Mr Keyes said the Townsville Women’s Centre had not previously raised those concerns with the service.
“We would be happy to talk to the women’s centre about these issues and will proactively arrange for this to occur,” Mr Keyes said.
“The Townsville Hospital and Health Service takes its obligations to patient and consumer safety very seriously.”
Mr Keyes said a thorough risk assessment was conducted on AAMHIU patients when they were admitted and during their stay.
“This assessment includes determining their personal level of vulnerability and any possible risk they may pose to others,” Mr Keyes said.
He said patients were provided more intensive clinical supervision if they were found to be at a higher risk.
Mr Keyes said most patients had individual rooms with doors and private en suites.
“Whenever possible, male and female consumers are accommodated on separate wings. In times of high demand, we may accommodate male and female consumers in the same wing,” Mr Keyes said.
He said the AAMHIU had three wings, recently had a $1.5 million refurbishment, and that there were appropriate resources and staffing to provide outreach mental health services.
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