A PSYCHIATRIC clinic specialising in patients with alcoholism and drug dependency is under threat after Fremantle council staff approved a bar next door without telling them.
Kevin O’Daly operates the clinic at 8 High Street, and only found out about plans by the owners of Strange Company wine bar to open a sister venue next door from a waitress, because a recent amendment to the city’s planning scheme allows small bar applications to sail through council without consultation or a vote from councillors. The owners have now applied for a liquor licence from the state liquor department.
Dr O’Daly says the two can’t operate next to each other, and he has the support of WA’s chief psychiatrist Nathan Gibson.
“Many [patients] are at high risk of suicide, self-harm, psychosis or medical compromise secondary to alcohol misuse, and are often critically ill and attend our rooms with concerned and distressed relatives.
“I can’t have parents sitting on the couch here asking ‘why did my son kill himself?’ with disco music going on downstairs.”
He says some of the clinic’s almost 2000 clients are so sensitive to alcohol triggers they have to be dropped off at the front door.
Dr Gibson has penned a supporting letter to Dr O’Daly, which is likely to form part of a submission opposing the bar when it comes before the state’s liquor licensing division.
“For patient (therapy needs), perceptional and practical reasons, most psychiatrists would not open a clinic in the community adjacent to an existing licensed premise, and for those same reasons it would be unreasonable to expect a psychiatrist with an established practice to agree to a licensed premise being set up adjacent,” Dr Gibson wrote.
His letter also notes the importance of having the office in the city centre: “Individuals with mental illness are incredibly stigmatised still, and discriminated against, despite our increasing public understanding.
“It is very important for ease of access, for the public, for psychiatrists and mental health services to be located throughout our community, including urban, suburban, regional, rural and remote settings—this includes central city locations.
“It is also very important for psychiatrists and mental health services to be visible within the community, to assist reducing stigma.”
Dr O’Daly told the Herald he’d carefully chosen the High Street venue after the growth of small bars and demand for his clinic prompted a move from Packenham Street two and a half years ago. It’s away from existing bars, and with long-established architectural firm Spaceagency on one side and Notre Dame uni on the other a small bar wasn’t something he’d contemplated.
His is the only private psychiatric clinic in Fremantle specialising in drug and alcohol rehabilitation, and Dr O’Daly says it fills an important gap in mental health treatment highlighted in a 2016 report from state coroner Ros Fogliani.
Ms Fogliani’s report into a spate of suicides connected to the Alma Street mental health facility, found a lack of drug and alcohol training at psychiatric centres was contributing to the state’s mental health crisis. A high proportion of mental health patients admitted to hospital also suffer alcohol and drug dependency issues.
The bar’s planned operating hours are 4pm to midnight but there’s plans to try for an extension to 1am.
Dr O’Daly says he and other therapists often see patients in need after hours and several nights a week there are meditation sessions.
Fremantle MP Simone McGurk is urging the council to reconsider approving small bars without more scrutiny.
“You won’t get a stronger supporter of small bars than me, however good planning is not a set and forget process,” she says. I have heard a lot of good things about Kevin O’Daly’s work, and like many, I am acutely aware of the need for effective and accessible drug and alcohol services in Fremantle. I support the city re-looking at their notification system so that residents or businesses are notified early.”
Public submissions to the Department of Racing, Gaming and Liquor close on June 16.
by DAVID BELL