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Dementia patient sent to jail -

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Dementia patient sent to jail

AM - Thursday, 20 December , 2007 08:06:00

Reporter: Daniel Hoare

TONY EASTLEY: The health system may be at the top of the agenda for today's COAG meeting, but there
are calls for mental health to be discussed by the new Prime Minister and his State leaders.

The Victorian Government is under fire over the circumstances of a 75-year-old woman with dementia
who's been sent to jail because state and federal authorities haven't been able to find
accommodation for her in the community.

The woman has tried to kill herself and has allegedly tried to kill her husband, but it could be a
year before she faces court.

AM's Daniel Hoare reports.

DANIEL HOARE: The 75-year-old woman is facing a charge of attempted murder over an alleged attack
on her husband, who also suffers dementia. It's alleged she tried to stab her husband with a
kitchen knife to end his suffering. She also stabbed herself.

The woman was born in Greece and speaks little English, and she's also clinically depressed. She's
currently in the psychiatric unit of Victoria's high security Dame Phyllis Frost Centre, but her
guardian, the Office of the Public Advocate, says she poses a risk to herself and to others and she
should be in a mental health facility, not a prison.

MARY WOOLDRIDGE: This incredibly sad story reflects failures across the mental health system.

DANIEL HOARE: Mary Wooldridge is Victoria's Opposition health spokeswoman.

MARY WOOLDRIDGE: It reflects the failure of the in-patient acute system where people who need care
are discharged earlier than they should be, despite the wishes of their carers and guardians, in
this case, the State. And secondly it reflects the failure of community and supported care, where
there is no accommodation for people with a mental illness and other disabilities. And therefore
people are ending up in situations they shouldn't be.

DANIEL HOARE: This woman is facing serious charges. Is it not right that she be in jail in a
psychiatric unit?

MARY WOOLDRIDGE: She needs psychiatric care, absolutely. But this failure is earlier in the system
than just now. It failed when it discharged her despite the wishes of the State, the Office of the
Public Advocate, and it failed when it failed to provide her appropriate accommodation.

DANIEL HOARE: The woman's solicitors says her situation is result of systemic failure. She says
Victoria's Department of Human Services has let her down. Mary Wooldridge says the situation
highlights the need for Federal-State cooperation on mental health.

MARY WOOLDRIDGE: COAG should be talking about mental health. There has been leadership in the past
by the Federal Government of putting COAG onto the agenda and making sure there was significant
investment in that. What we've seen, unfortunately, is no State or Territory, including the Brumby
Government, have not matched the investments that the previous federal government made, and this
Federal Government must be pushing the States to make the appropriate investments, with new money
to really change outcomes for people with mental illness.

DANIEL HOARE: AM requested an interview with Victoria's Mental Health Minister, Lisa Neville, but
the offer was declined. Instead, a spokesman issued a statement, saying the Minister had been
advised by the Department of Human Services that the woman was receiving continuing psychiatric
care, and she's being closely supervised.

The Minister's statement says the Department is working to develop a community based option to
accommodate the woman.

TONY EASTLEY: Daniel Hoare with that report.