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Saturday, 9 April 2011

The first hearing and some reflection.

February – March 2011: The directions hearing was held at VCAT. It was pretty intimidating – my lawyer had an asthma attack and couldn’t come so I had to get by on my own. The sitting member advised that she didn’t think I would win the case, and suggested that I use other means to resolve the dispute. I was given another month to consider.

After long consideration, I decided that, no matter how tough the case may be, it is important to move forward. Besides, there is no other means available that I can see. Those of us with mental health issues rarely get a voice, and if I don’t stand up here, who will? I’m reminded of that quote “all it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” While I think this ban has more to do with paternalism and inflexibility than ‘evil’ (and I have issues with the inherent misogyny of the quote), the principle still stands. So, I’ve decided, will I. I’m waiting now for a hearing date.

I make a commitment to fight this unjust ban.

December 2010: By now, I am getting particularly mad. Not crazy mad, but angry mad.

Sure, this isn't the most important issue in mental health; but it’s a symbol of the larger issues. These bans represent a lack of respect for people in vulnerable and difficult circumstances. For all the talk about consumer participation, I am seeing a complete disregard for our needs and opinions.

As though involuntary treatments of medications, ECT (shock treatments), being locked in seclusion or restraints are not enough of an insult to our dignity and rights, we are now deprived of the simple act of smoking a cigarette. And worse, this happens when we are at our most distressed.

These bans are cruel, inappropriate and discriminatory – and they don’t help anyone. Other people in Australia are entitled to quit smoking on their own terms. Even the two other groups in society who, like us, are deprived of liberty – prisoners and refugees in detention centres – are allowed to smoke. So why are mental health patients singled out in this way?

Sure, quitting is a great idea. But enforced quitting in the midst of an acute psychiatric breakdown is ludicrous.

At this point I decided that I was utterly committed to fight this ban to the bitter end. So I asked VEOHRC to refer my complaint to the Victorian Civil Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) on my request, to be heard as an anti-discrimination case.

The hospital refuses to budge, and the human rights commission can't help.

4 – 25 November 2010: The hospital made a response to the VEOHRC, justifying their policy by suggesting that they are simply discharging their ‘duty of care’.

I responded to the VEOHRC that I was extremely unsatisfied with the Hospital’s response. I said I was interested in taking the matter to conciliation. The VEOHRC was very encouraging, and said that my situation did indeed sound discriminatory, and also that most of the hospital’s responses were irrelevant to my complaint.

But, by the 25th, the VEOHRC had to close my complaint as it ‘did not consider it reasonably possible that the complaint may be conciliated successfully’. In other words, the hospital was completely unwilling to discuss the matter or consider any type of compromise.

Clearly the hospital wasn't going to do anything, so I took it to the Human Rights Commission.

25 September 2010: I made a formal complaint about the smoking ban to the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission (VEOHRC) – on grounds that it was discriminatory. Five days later they opened an investigation into my complaint.

I end up in hospital again, so I do a little research

31 May 2010: I conducted a small study on fellow inpatients about the impact of the ban and found I wasn’t alone in my anger and distress. I tried to survey the nurses too, but was told that their contracts forbid them from speaking against hospital policy.  Secretly though, five separate nurses talked to me about how much they hate the bans and don't want to enforce them.  I couldn’t understand why this was happening.

I get a response from Australia Hospital

1 April 2010.  An extract from their letter:

“Australia Hospital has considered the issue of no-smoking carefully and remains committed to promotion of the policy within the acute hospital setting. The impacts of passive smoking on other patients, staff and visitors have been registered as complaints over time. It is important to note that the acute hospital setting is not a place of residence but is a hospital that’s (sic) focus is to enhance and improve health outcomes. It is worth noting that no-smoking has been implemented within the high dependency units for over 4 years and we continue to work with strengthening the implementation of the no-smoking across the acute inpatient units.”

(Acting Quality and Risk Manager, Psychiatry)

I make my first official complaint.

22 March 2010:  After being forced to quit smoking during a psychiatric hospital admission, I wrote a letter of complaint to 'Australia Hospital'*.

*Because I have legal action pending, I won't use the real name of the hospital.  Instead I'll refer to them as 'Australia Hospital'.  Since these bans are happening all over the country, it's probably an appropriate name.