Changes to Shellharbour Hospital mental health ward after alleged murder

NSW chief psychiatrist Dr Murray Wright has visited Shellharbour Hospital’s Eloura West mental health facility in the wake of a damning report into its operations.

The alleged murder of a patient in July sparked a NSW Health investigation, with a subsequent report highlighting “gaps in service delivery” at the facility.

In just his second week on the job, Dr Wright – a psychiatrist of 25 years – toured the facility and met Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District’s senior mental health staff.

“I’ve worked in senior management roles in the health system in rural and metropolitan Sydney for 10 years so I understand the different types of mental health services available,” Dr Wright said.

“What I would say about Eloura West, which was built in the ’80s, is that it’s not unlike what I would expect from a facility of that era.

“There’s been a lot of changes in mental health inpatient unit design in the last 20 or so years, and a lot of innovation in terms of safety precautions and processes put in place.

“It’s often a challenge in some of the older units to implement those because of design limitations.”

Paul Hindmarsh, 31, of Gerringong, is in jail accused of killing fellow patient, 47-year-old Joseph Gumley, with an electric guitar at the Eloura West facility on July 31.

The NSW Health report found that the pair had not been checked for hours, with investigators told staff regularly signed observation sheets without actually seeing patients.

There were also a number of failed attempts to have the accused patient transferred to another facility.

The report made a number of recommendations including better management of observation practices.

Dr Wright said after Monday’s visit, he was confident the local health district had developed an appropriate action plan to address the report’s recommendations.

“These incidents are rare but are a massive tragedy for all involved – for victims and families, for patients and staff,” he said.

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