Overworked with deadly results
A GRIEVING mother said staff shortages at the Tweed Hospital's psychiatric unit meant at-risk patients were not receiving the attention needed to keep them safe - with fatal consequences.
On Thursday, July3, last year her 29-year-old daughter admitted herself to the 25-bed Tweed Valley Clinic. She had earlier presented at Mullumbimby Hospital, fearing she might try to harm herself.
The next day her mother received a phone call from a consultant psychiatrist at the clinic to say her daugh-ter was dead.
"I was driving at the time and he just bluntly told me what had happened."
Her daughter, whose case is subject to a coroner's inquest and cannot be named, had been diagnosed with a hole in the heart earlier in the year, she said.
"When he said 'I'm sorry to inform you that your daughter passed away an hour ago' and I was trying to comprehend those words, I said, 'did she have a heart attack?'."
No, he told her, she had committed suicide - a way of breaking the news that was "really badly handled", the mother said.
The family had seen the hospital room their daugh-ter was in and were amazed to see it was near the nurses' station.
"There were people all around. How on earth could she have managed it?
"She should not have been left alone in a room by herself, that's for sure. It only takes a few minutes.
"The care wasn't there. She should have had someone with her 24 hours a day ... and put in a room with another patient maybe."
The bereaved parents had seen "many" conflicting reports, about when their daughter was last seen alive, she said.
While the family is shocked and angry and wants answers, the mother stressed she didn't blame the clinic's staff.
"We read in a report how run off their feet they were. We can't blame them. It's the hospital system."
The clinic's head nurses had been "wonderful", the mother said. "I can't blame any of them. They're trying to do a very hard job and they've gone through hell seeing what they saw."
Did you know?
There were 733 admissions to Tweed Valley Clinic last year.
About half of these were detained under the New South Wales Mental Health Act.
There has been one other death in the TVC in the past five years, also a suicide.
If you have mental health concerns and wish to speak to someone, call the NSW Mental Health Line on 1800011511, a 24-hour service, or call the 24-hour Lifeline number, 131114.