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Opening the doors: Critically examining the locked wards policy for public mental health inpatient units in Queensland Australia
journal contributionposted on 03.08.2021, 07:26 by Neeraj S Gill, Stephen Parker, Andrew Amos, Richard Lakeman, Mary Emeleus, Lisa BrophyLisa Brophy, Steve Kisely
The Queensland Government issued a policy directive to lock all acute adult public mental health inpatient wards in 2013. Despite criticism from professional bodies and advocacy for an alternative, the policy has been retained to this day. A blanket directive to treat all psychiatric inpatients in a locked environment without individualised consideration of safety is inconsistent with least restrictive recovery-oriented care. It is against the principles of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, to which Australia is a signatory. It is also contrary to the main objects of the Mental Health Act 2016 (Qld). Queensland Health has reported a reduction in ‘absences without permission’ from psychiatric inpatient wards after the introduction of the locked wards policy; however, no in-depth analysis of the consequences of this policy has been conducted. It has been argued that patients returning late or not returning from approved leave is a more common event than patients ‘escaping’ from mental health wards, yet all may be counted as ‘absent without permission’ events. A review of the international literature found little evidence of reduced absconding from locked wards. Disadvantages for inpatients of locked wards include lowered self-esteem and autonomy, and a sense of exclusion, confinement and stigma. Locked wards are also associated with lower satisfaction with services and higher rates of medication refusal. On the contrary, there is significant international evidence that models of care like Safewards and having open door policies can improve the environment on inpatient units and may lead to less need for containment and restrictive practices. We recommend a review of the locked wards policy in light of human rights principles and international evidence.