The Malta Independent 23 June 2024, Sunday
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Mt Carmel’s acute psychiatry services to move to Mater Dei’s former psychiatric ward this year

Semira Abbas Shalan Monday, 20 May 2024, 13:10 Last update: about 2 months ago

Health Minister Jo Etienne Abela said Monday that by the end of the year, acute psychiatry services offered at Mount Carmel hospital will be transferred to the former psychiatric ward at Mater Dei, which was being used for Covid-19 purposes.

Abela addressed a press conference where he spoke about the reforms underway for the mental health sector, which involve short, medium, and long-term plans.

Abela said that government is conscious that mental health must be given priority in the country, and discussions took place in the past few months with stakeholders, experts, unions representing workers, as well as NGOs in the sector.

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He said that government took a political direction, and all stakeholders were informed.

On Mount Carmel, he said that the population of the hospital used to reach over 700 patients, and now, over the years, it has declined to around 250 patients.

"This is the fruit of government's work to give a boost to the sector within the community," Abela said.

He said that while in the past thousands of patients went for care at Mount Carmel, now, the hospital is associated with stigma and seclusion.

"In the 21st century, this stigma must be broken and stopped immediately, and we have, in the past few months, been working on plans so that over 100 patients with a stable mental health condition are moved to the community, with collaboration with the private sector," Abela said, adding that this is a short-term, immediate measure.

Government's medium-term measure is for acute mental health services to regain its functions at Mater Dei hospital, which will take around three to four years, to integrate mental health "completely" with physical health at Mater Dei.

Abela said that the psychiatric ward at Mater Dei, which was turned into wards to treat Covid-19 patients, is undergoing preparations to once again begin providing mental health services. This move is to be finalised by this year, Abela said.

On long-term measures, government is planning on phasing out Mount Carmel and ceasing its functions as a mental health hospital.

Abela said that plans to build a psychiatric unit in Mater Dei are at an advanced stage, and the Foundation for Medical Services will soon be submitting plans to the Planning Authority.

"These are manoeuvres which strengthen the services in the community, as well as there being a paradigm shift where mental health becomes an integral part of physical health. One patient, one health," Abela said.

He said that discussions and cooperation between the different Ministries involved on the social aspect, abuse, as well as forensic aspects of psychiatry will also be held to solve such issues.

"I want to be clear to our employees at Mount Carmel, nobody will be losing their jobs and positions. The structure of management, all positions and conditions will remain the same," Abela clarified.

He said that this planned move will strengthen prospective careers of professionals in psychiatry.

The President of the Medical Association of Malta (MAM) Martin Balzan said in an interview with The Malta Independent on Sunday that the country has wasted 11 years of investment for health infrastructure, due to the Vitals and Steward concessions on the three hospitals.

Abela was asked if these reforms were a government reaction to attempt to gather the pieces after the Vitals case, to which he said that this was no reaction. He said that these discussions concluded last week, during Mental Health Awareness week.

"I can assure you that I and my colleagues in the Ministry have been working on these plans for these past months. The push for a change in mental health treatment has been ongoing for years," Abela said.

He continued that treatment in the community must be the foundation of psychiatry, and that abroad, these measures have already been implemented.

Abela said that through discussions with stakeholders, government has acknowledged the need for a change, yet this will not happen by closing down Mount Carmel overnight, but it will be phased out, after it heard experts' and patients' opinions.

He was also asked about the plans for a new mental health hospital, to which he said that after discussing with stakeholders, there was the wish that services for acute mental health should be integrated with Mater Dei, and not opposite the hospital.

"The plans and funds that were there for the new mental health hospital will be used to build the new unit," Abela said.

With regards to the mental health sector, the PN said that mental health for the government is not a priority, "despite their pretty words."

"The PN, through its MPs, had requested an urgent discussion on mental health in light of the amount of suicides in the country. Despite this, and despite this request having been made a month ago, the discussion about this sensitive sector hasn't even begun," the PN said, adding that the PN had filed its request on 20 April. It said that the government proposed a date for three weeks after. "The government postponed the meeting without giving a new date."


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