Mental health services cut

Wednesday, July 31, 1991

By A. Simmons

BRISBANE — Funding cuts to Queensland psychiatric services are resulting in cost-cutting measures that will threaten basic human rights, according to the newly formed Mental Action Group (MAG).

The group, initiated and resourced by Student Initiatives in Community Health, consists of people who are outraged by the silence that has allowed attacks on the human rights of psychiatric patients in Queensland to go unnoticed.

A departmental memo found by the group earlier this year outlines a number of initiatives aimed at cutting costs, including the conversion of open wards to locked wards, the reduction of ward staffing numbers and the reduction of therapeutic programs.

"We are concerned that these economically motivated proposals would seriously jeopardise human rights. Any proposal to convert open wards to locked wards to save on staffing costs is outrageous" a MAG spokesperson said.

The memo also calls for the review of medication "to ensure cost effective use of medication ... as is consistent with good clinical practice". The implication that medications will be altered to reduce costs is frightening, and surely has nothing to do with good clinical practice.

The general direction suggested by the memo implies a return to old models of psychiatric services. It suggests that the primary role of the psychiatric hospital is one of containment, not of therapy and rehabilitation. One initiative calls for the reduction of "nursing numbers on wards ... to basic safety numbers". As MAG states in its letter to the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, surely patients have the right to more than basic safety numbers.

MAG will be producing a series of radio programs dealing with mental health issues called "Radio Loonacy". The group can be contacted through radio station 4ZZZ, Brisbane.

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