13 June 2022

Government appoints chair for Dhulwa Mental Health Unit assaults inquiry

| Lottie Twyford
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Matthew Daniel

Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation ACT branch secretary Matthew Daniel previously said the government had failed to keep workers at Dhulwa safe. Photo: Lottie Twyford.

The inquiry into the Dhulwa Mental Health Unit will be headed by former Fair Work Commissioner Barbara Deegan and will deliver its preliminary findings after three months.

Nurses and the nurses’ union called for the inquiry into the secure mental health unit after 100 assaults on staff were reported over six months.

One nurse likened going to work to being sent into the “killing fields”, while others said they no longer felt safe.

It was also revealed the Territory’s work safety regulator had stepped in to issue improvement and prohibition notices.

Those notices are still being worked through.

Minister for Mental Health Emma Davidson said the government had listened to nurses and responded to their concerns, hence the quick turnaround for the review.

“Nurses were very clear with us. They wanted to see action and they wanted to see this happen quickly,” she said.

“We have made sure this inquiry will be very efficient and we will be able to get to the heart of the matter quickly.”

Emma Davidson sitting in the Legislative Assembly

Minister for Mental Health Emma Davidson announced the terms of reference for the Dhulwa inquiry yesterday. Photo: Region Media.

Initially, the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Foundation (ANMF) ACT had slammed the government’s response as “appalling”.

Branch secretary Matthew Daniel said nurses were concerned for their own safety and the safety of their patients as well as visitors.

He raised concerns over what he described as a ‘rotten culture’ at the facility where patient rights were pitted against those of nurses and warned of the potential for a catastrophic event to take place at the facility if changes were not made.

The Opposition had added their voices to calls for an inquiry into the facility which opened in 2016 to focus on rehabilitating patients who had come into contact with the criminal justice system.

Mr Daniel said the nurses union had first raised issues of occupational violence at Dhulwa in 2018 but it seems nothing had been done since then.

He has welcomed the announcement of the inquiry and said the union would collaborate with members to contribute to its critical work.

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According to the inquiry’s terms of reference, the review will look at the facility’s governance and operating environment, the effectiveness of this and any gaps.

It will also deliver recommendations to improve safety and best practice service for consumers and the workforce.

Ms Davidson said the inquiry would hear from nurses, the union and consumers, as well as people with loved ones at Dhulwa.

A final report will be handed down six weeks after the preliminary report.

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Canberra Health Services (CHS) CEO Dave Peffer said he looked forward to working with stakeholders to improve the working environment for Dhulwa staff.

“Keeping our team members safe is our priority,” he said.

“We know that when our team members feel safe, they do their best work – delivering exceptional care for patients at Dhulwa.

“CHS looks forward to rapidly introducing improvements as opportunities are identified throughout the inquiry.”

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