Victoria’s hospital for the most acute mental health patients, including those too sick to be found guilty of serious crimes, will undergo a $350 million upgrade as part of Thursday’s state budget.
- The hospital is predominately home to people found not guilty on the grounds of mental impairment
- The first stage of the rebuild includes a new women’s centre and a medium-security facility
- The hospital’s operator says wait times for beds make patient recovery difficult
The Thomas Embling Hospital provides secure clinical treatment for patients within the justice system who have either been sentenced or detained for psychiatric assessment and care.
It also provides specialised care for people in the community with acute needs.
The Fairfield centre provides services for people in prison who need additional mental health treatment — which is about a third of Victorian prisoners.
The hospital has been chronically underfunded and crying out for major upgrades and expansions for years.
But it has taken the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System to break the political cycle and score serious money from government.
“We have a got a mental health system that is broken,” Minister for Mental Health and acting Premier James Merlino said.
“It is broken within forensic, it is broken out in the community, that’s why we made a commitment to deliver on all of the recommendations.”
Patients getting sicker as they wait for a bed
During a tour of the site, the chief executive of hospital operator Forensicare, Margaret Grigg, told the ABC too often people waiting to get specialist treatment at the hospital committed a crime and ended up in prison.
“The length of time people need to wait to get a bed here really impacts upon their recovery and makes it much harder, and unfortunately people are just sicker by the time they get here,” Dr Grigg said.
Inside the centre, the units are tired and run-down.
Rooms for patients are small and cold.
The average stay is eight years and 80 per cent of people in the 136-bed centre have been found not guilty of a serious crime on the grounds of mental impairment and require treatment at Thomas Embling.
“Space is really, really important and making sure that people have enough personal space, it’s really important when you are recovering,” Dr Grigg said.
The major funding commitment fulfils one of the key recommendations of the state’s mental health royal commission, which called for the state to refurbish the existing beds and expand the hospital by 107 beds.
Under the state investment, a new 34-bed women’s centre will be built, as well as a 48-bed medium-security facility. It is just the first stage of a major rebuild.
Mr Merlino said the entire mental health system needed to be rebuilt.
“This is the biggest investment in Thomas Embling in its history and it’s desperately needed, we know one in three prisoners have mental health needs,” he said.
Mr Merlino said he hoped construction could begin in the middle of next year, with work to take up to 18 months.
‘New culture of care’ is needed, expert says
The government has already committed nearly $900 million to overhauling the state’s beleaguered mental health system and more is expected to be outlined at Thursday’s state budget.
But Mr Merlino is remaining tight-lipped on whether the state will introduce a recommended levy this year to help pay for the complete rebuild of the mental health system.
That was one of the key recommendations of the royal commission.
Leading mental health expert and former Australian of the Year, Patrick McGorry, said the budget needed to provide money over four years, not just now.
“So that’s going to take time. And the risk, then politically, is that the momentum is lost.”
He said early intervention with mental health in teens could help arrest crime.
“Offending is like mental illness, it starts to pick up around puberty, and then surges through, adolescence, early adulthood,” Professor McGorry said.
“And after 25, it drops off, you don’t see many new offenders after 25. Same with mental illness.
“You see people locked up in prisons because there’s no mental health system.”