Dr WOODRUFF - In budget Estimates last year we asked a number of questions about the James Geoffrey Griffin matter. The minister at the time said the following:
I have…tasked the secretary of the department to look at our processes to ensure we are looking at any immediate action that needs to be taken. I do not want to wait until we get a year down the track until we have findings to look at.
What actions, and what are the time lines for those action, have been taken by the department? Where are things up to now?
Mr ROCKLIFF - Thanks, Dr Woodruff. On 23 November 2020, the Premier announced that a commission of inquiry would be established to investigate the responses of Tasmanian Government agencies in relation to the management of the historical allegations of child sexual abuse. The Department of Health is fully and actively supporting a commission of inquiry, providing all relevant information to assist the commission in its investigation of the management of allegations of child sexual abuse and has formed a dedicated commission of inquiry response and reform team for this purpose. I might refer you to Ms Morgan Wicks for further operational detail in relation to your question.
All requests for information and documentation relating to the commission of inquiry have been coordinated through this team. The team will also implement reforms across the agency where it is identified that improvement can be made on existing practices. Communications are being provided to all Department of Health and Tasmanian health staff on a regular basis and staff are continuing to be encouraged to report any allegation of child sexual abuse, either current or historical, of which they are aware.
Information on reporting obligations and how to make a report of suspected child sexual abuse is available to all staff. Support mechanisms are in place for staff who may have been impacted by child sexual abuse or matters relating to the commission of inquiry. This includes information on how to access crisis support services and the department's employee-assisted program providers.
The outcomes of the inquiry will ensure we learn from the past and we have the right practices and processes in place to protect our children and young people. The Department of Health has formed a dedicated team to respond to commission of inquiry requests for information and support staff required to appear the commission.
The team consists of three full time staff: the manager of the commission of inquiry and two principal advisors of the commission of inquiry. The following additional resources have been employed or are in the process of being recruited within business units to assist with the department's commission of inquiry response: three information officers to assist with records, management and retrieval associated with the commission of inquiry. Part of this resource may be utilised to undertake an external assessment of record-keeping practices and storage sites across the department and to make recommendations to ensure that information management functions across the organisation are compliant and efficient; two legal officers to assist with additional legal matters associated with commission of inquiry including right to information requests and applications for legal assistance and indemnity; a human resources consultant to assist with employee conduct investigations and other human resource processes associated with the commission of inquiry; a health and wellbeing officer to assist staff who may be affected by the commission of inquiry including, but not limited to, those required to provide a statement or appear before the commission.
The team is also progressing or assisting on progress reforms across the department where it is identified that improvement can be made on existing practices, including: developing resources for staff and managers to inform about the commission of inquiry; developing resources for all staff that explain mandatory reporting obligations and processes; considering service wide record keeping and case management tools to deliver efficient, standardised and compliant management of information; providing ongoing support and guidance to managers in managing the expectations and requirements of employee professional and behaviour standards; and extending the requirements to hold working with vulnerable people registration across the Department of Health.
Ms MORGAN-WICKS - In terms of the immediate steps we spoke about at Estimates last year, we immediately took action to form the team. Three senior staff constituting relevant legal disclosure and complaint handling experience were immediately available to support an examination of all of our materials across the department.
We established a public disclosure email address for staff and an inquiries email address for the general public. We established a dedicated phone line to triage complaints or submissions and advise of support services that were available to both staff or to the public. We communicated to all Department of Health staff many times, informing them of the examination of our policies and procedures, informing them of the support mechanisms that are available particularly through our employee assistance program and also the information on how to make a disclosure. At various points in time, we further communicated to them about the independent investigation, then the formation of the commission of inquiry. We've continued to meet with former and current staff of 4K at the LGH. I've personally met with many of the staff, including former staff on 4K, to speak to them about their experiences, to try to provide them with appropriate levels of support and to inform them as to the improvements that we are making to really encourage every single member of our staff that work across our hospitals to report conduct that they have concerns in relation to.
The minster has outlined the immediate improvements that we are looking at. Probably the most significant of those is to extend the requirement to hold a working with vulnerable people registration right across the Department of Health.
Dr WOODRUFF - Thank you very much. Minister, a follow up question about the comment that Ms Morgan-Wicks made last year. She described the department's open disclosure process and how that process had typically been used by the department to handle adverse medical events but it had to be adapted for circumstances regarding the complaints that were being reported by staff on the Griffin matter. In the work that has been done, has there been consideration of a stand-alone process to handle issues like the complaints that were made but not acted on previously?
Ms MORGAN-WICKS - Last budget Estimates, I spoke about the open disclosure process. I commented that usually open disclosure follows an adverse event that may occur in the medical procedure or a treatment or in an incident that has occurred in a hospital environment or health care setting. Usually that involves an executive director of medical services and a treating team and social workers, potentially other support services that can sit with a patient or their family and representative to work through the incident that has occurred.
It's probably not commonly used in relation to a reporting of child sexual abuse but that has been part of our process to look at from the very inception of the first complaint or report of an incident through to the mandatory reporting that has to occur and then to a potential open disclosure process within the department. That is squarely within our commission of inquiry team, which is not just handling our response to the commission of inquiry but is looking at our policies and procedures to make sure we have made every improvement that is required so that we can handle each instance if it is reported of child sexual abuse.