DLA Piper last week published a note on the Inquest into the death of Adriana Donato, a matter in which the deceased had been killed by a person who previously sought mental health care. During his sessions with a psychologist the person had expressed his anger towards Ms Donato and disclosed intentions to harm an unnamed person.

DLA Piper summarised the issues as follows:

The inquest focused on Mr Stoneham’s disclosures to his psychologist, and examined the existing obligations of confidentiality in the psychologist/patient relationship and the current threshold for breaching patient confidentiality under the Health Records Act 2001 (Vic) (HRA), which requires “a serious and imminent threat”.

The psychologist gave evidence that she had not reached the view that Mr Stoneham constituted a serious or imminent threat. However, the Coroner found that it would have been appropriate for the psychologist to question Mr Stoneham on his threats, such questioning should have made reference to Ms Donato and should have intended to verify whether he had developed a plan as to how harm would be inflicted. The response to these questions could have clarified whether she notify her employer and the police of the threats.

The Coroner recommended that the State of Victoria amend the HRA to remove the requirement that a “serious risk of harm” be also one which is “imminent”. It also recommended that existing Code of Ethics and Guidelines (of the Psychology Board of Australia) should provide greater clarity of reporting obligations.

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