The Malta Independent 7 May 2021, Friday

Mount Carmel Hospital has made the news again, and again for the wrong reasons

Sunday, 14 February 2021, 07:18 Last update: about 4 months ago

A service user wrote about her shocking experience during a brief stay at the state hospital. This was followed by a strong declaration by Commissioner for Mental Health Dr John Cachia.  

There have been other explicit declarations over the past years evidencing the prevailing conditions within the hospital, conditions that could actually aggravate the mental health of the average person! At one point we were assured that no patient is in any physical danger despite reports that three fourths of the hospital ceilings were condemned.

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One excuse/reason/explanation we hear in defence of the neglect of Mount Carmel Hospital is the fact that it is an old building. A quick Google check reveals that it was built in 1861 and truly that’s a long time ago, but another Google search reveals that the Auberges in Valletta, which house mainly government departments, were built in the 1500s therefore older by about 300 years! And look at them now! Interestingly enough €4.4m were available and allocated to refurbish the Museum of Fine Arts to house the Attorney General, just to mention one example of public expenditure. Mount Carmel Hospital is meant to be the state hospital providing help and treatment to persons experiencing mental health issues, in the same way that Mater Dei Hospital offers treatment for physical conditions like heart problems at Cardiology, urinary problems at Urology, and so on. Between 2010 and 2014 the Sir Anthony Mamo Oncology Centre was built to accommodate and care for cancer patients. Why the discrimination? Why have the planned promises been kept on hold for so long? Maybe someone can shed a light on how priorities are set?

Would anyone experiencing, say, a panic attack or suffering from depression willingly approach Mount Carmel Hospital for psychiatric or psychological help? I doubt if it is even remotely considered. Why should one feel reluctant or ashamed to seek help at Mount Carmel Hospital? Is the Emergency Department at Mater Dei Hospital the right place to be, especially if there is no psychiatrist or psychologist in attendance? What’s the difference? Maybe, because beyond the front entrance it is not even remotely respectable, which in itself contributes towards stigma and the patient becomes the victim who carries the burden of shame? Maybe, because of a host of other reasons. And the stigma sticks.

Humanness is being ignored. A human being is not a case, a file or a bed number; beyond the pathology there is a person, there is a family, there are friends.

The Charter of Fundamental Human Rights, inter alia, states:

Article 1: Human dignity is inviolable. It must be respected and protected; and in

Article 3.1: Everyone has the right to respect for his or her physical and mental integrity.

Are these basic human rights being adhered to? What has happened to dignity, respect and empathy? Non-adherence affects not only the patients but also their families as well as the staff involved. Should the patients or their families, who are already weighed down by the circumstances they find themselves in, as with any health issue, be the ones to advocate for what should rightly be in place? Not everyone is a tough cookie! Social well-being anyone?

SHAME on all concerned who over the years sidelined this health issue. Evidently there has not been enough collective effort to eradicate the stigma, which is unfairly linked to mental health.  Until the “new” hospital being promised materialises, what is the fate of the patients currently occupying the few remaining “safe” wards? The culture of care definitely needs revising.

Thankfully there are NGOs that responsibly keep working against all odds, relying heavily on charity, to provide and maintain a high standard of service of community mental health, offering steadily and quietly a listening ear and support to anyone who asks for it, educating the public on mental health conditions and working to reduce the stigma unfairly attached to it. 

However the responsibility should not stop with them. Mental health is paramount. What we are currently living through is proof enough. When one considers that one out of every four persons suffers from mental health issues, mental health should unquestionably be on par with other health issues on the National Health Service in the hope that one would feel confident enough to seek help before it is too late… and that may well save a life.

 

Josephine Grieve

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