A WODONGA man who sought help for his mental illness was subjected to “bullying and intimidation” from his clinicians.
The incident at Wodonga hospital has led to his family asking those in charge: Cut the bureaucracy and listen to your patients.
Ruth sent a letter of complaint to Albury Woodnga Health after she and her husband John (not their real names) attended the Wodonga emergency department on Saturday May 11, out of concern for John’s declining mental health in preceding days.
They requested the adult mental health team assess John and two clinicians attended.
In her letter, Ruth described the assessment as “aggressive” and conducted in a way “I could only describe as bullying and intimidating (and) totally inexcusable for two supposed health professionals”.
John was sent home three hours later with medication on the advice of a psychiatrist from Wangaratta’s Kerferd Clinic, to await a pre-scheduled appointment on Monday with his private doctor.
He was hospitalised less than 48 hours later.
For the couple, who have a daughter, 10, this was the last straw in their growing disillusionment with the mental health system.
It was John’s third contact with the emergency unit in a year and each time, Ruth, said there was no follow-up and many unreturned phone calls.
AWH chief executive Stuart Spring yesterday apologised for the delay in replying to Ruth, didn’t dispute her claims but said no further action was being taken.
While Ruth said she understands the system is under immense strain, she believes health professionals are reluctant to listen to their patients.
“I want to go and belt someone and wake them up to what is going on out there in the general community,” she said.
“The hierarchy of upper management need to get down to grassroots.
“Take the blinkers off, stop shuffling paper and get down and support people, especially people saying ‘I need help’.
“Whether it’s a state government or federal problem I don’t know but someone’s got to stand up and be responsible for it ... We’re just one of God knows how many people going through the same thing.”
The complaint comes as the Victorian government is in the throes of reforming its mental health system, with moves to a greater focus on patient-led recovery.
Ruth said she received a response to her complaint on May 31 saying the matter was being looked into, but has heard nothing since.
Dr Spring confirmed the complaint had been received.
“There has been a delay in getting back to (the family) and I apologise for that, but we will be getting back to them soon,” he said.
Dr Spring said investigations into the matter had been delayed due to staff members being on sick leave and workloads.
He said AWH didn’t dispute any of the claims made.
Its investigations into the matter have concluded and no further action will be taken.
“It (the subject of the complaint) was a difficult set of circumstances with the staff, (the family) and other staff,” he said.
“Any complaint is a concern but there’s always two sides to any story and that is the focus of the investigation.”
Ruth believes part of the “aggression” was because AWH’s former consumer consultant Bevyn Dempsey was present with the couple.
The Border Mail reported a month ago that Mr Dempsey resigned from the role after the incident.
The role sees a person who has had a mental illness acting as a support and advocate in the patient’s interactions with doctors.
The role hasn’t been filled and is being reviewed.
Ruth said the clinicians were fixated on the fact Mr Dempsey was there on his day off, despite him saying he was there as a friend only at the couple’s request.
“All they could do was concentrate on the fact that Bevyn shouldn’t have been there, he had no right to be there, and they were forgetting they had John there very unwell, and me there as his wife and carer, seeking help,” she said.
Ruth said she “couldn’t fault” the help Mr Dempsey gave — John had markedly improved in how he approached his illness since meeting Mr Dempsey in February.
“I think it was helpful for him, knowing this big burly guy he was talking to knew the ups and downs, the feelings he was having,” she said.
“My concern is, what happens if Joe Blow presents alone (at emergency) with no one to stand up for him?”