PATIENTS at Victoria’s largest hospital for the criminally insane will have a third of their pension deducted as part of a pay-to-stay policy designed to give them ”real life budgeting experience”.
Documents obtained by The Age reveal the fee plan was approved by the board of the Victorian Institute of Forensic Mental Health, known as Forensicare, in September last year.
But relatives of patients being treated at Fairfield’s Thomas Embling Hospital were told only last week of the plan to deduct $247.10 from the fortnightly disability support pension of $748.80.
The fee plan, set to begin in June, means mentally ill Victorians serving custodial sentences will be treated differently from the general prison population.
Corrections Victoria yesterday said most prisoners under 65 had the opportunity to work 60 hours per fortnight in a range of prison industries and earn between $30 and $60 per week. It costs about $90,000 a year to look after a prisoner in Victoria.
Relatives of patients, the opposition and the Victorian Mental Illness Awareness Council yesterday said they were concerned by the fee proposal.
Opposition mental health spokesman Gavin Jennings said the Baillieu government needed to ensure it was not taking advantage of mentally ill patients serving custodial sentences and being treated on an involuntary basis. ”The government has to ensure it is being consistent and fair with its custodial arrangements rather than making a gratuitous grab for cash,” he said.
The awareness council’s executive director, Isabell Collins, said the move appeared to be a ”money-saving exercise”.
”I would also argue that people are in hospital because they are unwell and to expect them to pay because their hospitalisation is long-term is simply wrong.
”If the proposal goes ahead, it will inhibit their already limited ability to make any savings in preparation for their discharge and living in the community … many of these patients are being held against their will and to expect them to pay is, in my view, unethical because many of the patients are in Thomas Embling under a custodial order.”
In a recent letter to relatives, Forensicare said the fee structure for those staying 35 days or more would raise funds to improve amenities and boost the budgetary position.
Forensicare also said the introduction of fees ”can contribute to a recovery model for patients as it will give them a real life budgeting experience, which they will require for community living”.
But Ms Collins questioned Forensicare’s justification, saying many patients already had adequate budgeting skills.
A family member of a Thomas Embling patient told The Age she was disappointed with the consultation process and questioned Forensicare’s premise that people deemed too mentally unwell to have a say in their medical care could consent to deductions from their pension.
A spokesman for the Department of Health said yesterday: ”Consistent with Commonwealth government policy, many health services charge fees for long-term patients, including many in secure extended care units and community care.”