Key messages

  • Community visitors are an important safeguard in the Mental Health Act 2014 (the Act).
  • Community visitors protect and promote the health, safety, wellbeing and rights of people receiving mental health services at prescribed premises.
  • Community visitors’ role is to monitor the services and facilities provided at prescribed premises.

Community visitors can:

  • visit and inquire into the adequacy of services and facilities provided at prescribed premises. 
  • inspect any document relating to a person receiving mental health services at prescribed premises. A person’s individual clinical record may only be inspected with the person’s consent. 
  • help people receiving mental health services to resolve issues, seek support and make complaints.

What is the role of a community visitor?

Community visitors are volunteers who:

  • visit and inquire into the adequacy of services and facilities provided at prescribed premises
  • inquire into the appropriateness and standard of facilities for the accommodation, physical wellbeing and welfare of persons receiving mental health services at prescribed premises
  • inquire into the adequacy of opportunities and facilities for recreation, occupation, education, training and recovery at prescribed premises
  • inquire into whether the mental health services provided at prescribed premises are provided in accordance with the objectives of the Act and the mental health principles and any failure to comply with the Act or the Mental Health Regulations 2014
  • assist persons receiving mental health services at prescribed premises to resolve issues identified in the course of making an inquiry, seek support from other relevant bodies or services, and to make complaints to the Mental Health Complaints Commissioner
  • inquire into any other matter that a community visitor is satisfied is appropriate, having regard to the objectives of the Act and the mental health principles.

‘Prescribed premises’ means the premises of:

  • a designated mental health service
  • a mental health service provider in which residential services and 24 hour nursing care is provided for persons who have mental illness; or
  • a prescribed mental health service provider or prescribed class of mental health service providers in which residential care is provided for persons who have mental illness.

Prevention Recovery and Care (PARC) services have been prescribed in the Mental Health Regulations 2014 as prescribed premises. Accordingly, community visitors have jurisdiction to visit, inspect and assist persons receiving mental health services at PARC services.

What can a community visitor do?

Community visitors may visit and inspect any part of a prescribed premises at any time; they do not have to give prior notice when they will be visiting.

At the prescribed premises, the community visitor may:

  • inspect any part of the prescribed premises, except a person’s bedroom unless the person consents
  • talk to any person receiving mental health services who wishes, or has asked, to speak with the community visitor
  • inspect any record that is required to be kept under the Act or the Regulations
  • inspect any document, other than a clinical record, that relates to a person receiving mental health services at the premises
  • inspect a person’s clinical record if that person gives consent.

A ‘clinical record’ is a record that contains health information (within the meaning of the Health Records Act 2001) relating to an individual that is created as evidence of the delivery of a clinical service to the person. It includes clinical notes made by members of the treating team including doctors, nurses and allied health professionals. Examples of health information may include admission/discharge forms, examination and pathology/diagnostic records, assessment reports, drug or medication orders, imaging records, photographs and videos, and reports.

A clinical record does not include documents created for the purpose of service management, planning, development, monitoring, improvement or evaluation, even where those documents may include health information about individual consumers. For example incident reports are an important management tool to improve the quality and safety of mental health services provided at prescribed premises. While incident reports may include health information about an individual, they do not constitute part of the clinical record and may be disclosed to a community visitor without consent if required in the performance of powers or functions of the community visitor.

In relation to ‘records that are required to be kept under the Act or the Regulations’, the Act and Regulations do not currently specify any such documents or records.

Person can request to see community visitor

A person receiving mental health services at prescribed premises, or someone on their behalf, may request the person in charge of the prescribed premises to arrange for the person to be visited by a community visitor.

The person in charge of the prescribed premises must notify the Office of the Public Advocate Advice Service on 1300 309 337 that a visit from a community visitor is required within two business days after receiving a request.

Staff must provide reasonable assistance

Staff of prescribed premises must give a community visitor any reasonable assistance that the community visitor requires to perform or exercise any of the community visitor's powers or functions effectively.

Community visitors – Code of practice

The Secretary to the department has made a Community Visitors Code of Practice, which describes the role, functions and powers of community visitors under the Act.