Mount Carmel female patients pen letter from inside ward where they sleep on the floor

The conditions inside the ward were recently given prominence by Democratic Party MP Godfrey Farrugia, who requested that Commissioner for Health Charles Messina carry out an investigation

Paul Cocks
2 October 2017, 7:30am
Patients from Mount Carmel Hospital's male ward 8B have penned a letter testifying to the 'inhumane' conditions in which they find themselves
Patients from Mount Carmel Hospital's male ward 8B have penned a letter testifying to the 'inhumane' conditions in which they find themselves
Female patients from Mount Carmel Hospital’s ‘male ward 8B’ have penned a letter that was passed on to MaltaToday, testifying to the “inhumane” conditions in which they find themselves.

The patients include drug addicts who have been referred for treatment at the state mental health hospital in Attard. MaltaToday understands that female patients are hosted in what is the left wing of the MW8B, now segregated from the male section by a central lobby, and metal gates.

The conditions inside the ward were recently given prominence by Democratic Party MP Godfrey Farrugia, who requested that Commissioner for Health Charles Messina carry out an investigation.

Farrugia said patients’ rights were being violated, with not enough beds available in MW8B, and that half of the patients were sleeping on mattresses in the corridor. He said the conditions violated the Mental Health Act.

These claims were indeed confirmed by the letter passed on to MaltaToday by the female patients at MW8B, who said they were writing “out of sheer desperation… for immediate attention, for someone to take action on the disastrous, inhuman situation in which we find ourselves.”

The patients said the ward consisted of a corridor with five adjoining single rooms – which this newspaper understands are not larger than six square metres – which are now hosting up to three beds, with an open toilet. In some cases, the lack of beds and space inside the hospital means some patients have to sleep on a mattress.

At least 23 patients were reported in the ward at one time. “There is a small bench for us to sit on, however only three people can sit and eat relatively comfortably. “There is absolutely no furniture, no chairs, tables or sofas. Therefore, we sit on the floor to watch TV, where only Maltese channels are shown.

“There is absolutely no structure to the day, and we are not served any breakfast whatsoever. We are entitled to tea or coffee, for which we have to beg and plead. More often than not, there is no milk until late in the day. Patients who have serious stomach or liver problems have to drink black coffee, and no food is served until 11:45,” the patients write.

They said that while three patients have room to eat on the bench, the rest squat and eat on the floor at lunch. “The rooms are boiling hot, absolutely stifling, with very old fans that are useless.”

The corridor is locked off from the central lobby by a completely covered metal gate. “Staff take advantage of that fact by ignoring us, leaving us knocking for ages, just to ask for some sugar. The food is always either chicken or meatballs with seriously overcooked potatoes and vegetables. We were told that the food is mush because of the elderly patients who can’t chew their food.

“We are given medication, some of which is with the intention to sedate patients in order for them to ‘shut up’. We never get any fresh air whatsoever, and non-smokers have to live with six or more smokers. We have been asking for a Sunday newspaper for ages, but even that was denied.”

They also said that medication is rarely on time, while “most people end up with a long list of tranquillizers and addictive pills, such as diazepam.”

The patients said that it is “almost impossible to believe that people are still living in this way. This letter is in no way exaggerated, in fact, quite the opposite. Absolutely nothing is done to help patients with their recovery, as they are here simply to rot. This becomes obvious because patients start spending more and more time in bed, and patients with drug or alcohol problems end up with severe depression too.”

MP Godfrey Farrugia has echoed these claims in his letter to the Commissioner for Health. “There are 10 beds in different rooms but double the amount of patients, and the excess patients sleep on a mattress on the floor in the corridor,” he said.

Farrugia said that the patients are uninformed, that protocols don’t even exist and there is a lack of equipment. He also said no nurse employed by the government wants to work and take responsibility of the ward, and consequently, the Department of Health remedied the issue by calling private nurses.

“I understand that these nurses are not all specialised in the field. However, I want to applaud them for the work they are doing in this hall even though it is not their place,” he said.

There is also no outdoor yard, which Farrugia claims, means smokers are smoking inside which is a detriment to patients and medical staff.

‘Revolving door’

Officials at Mount Carmel Hospital this week claimed that homeless drug rehab patients have been turning to the mental health hospital for a place to sleep at, resulting in what psychologists and mental health nurses are calling a ‘revolving door’ at the hospital.

Former patients discharged following a drug rehabilitation course, also continue to return to Mount Carmel in search of shelter.

“They feel comfortable with us,” managing director Maria Assunta Bonello said. “We give them methadone, which reduces the withdrawal effect of drugs, or take them to Mater Dei if need be, but we cannot let these individuals roam the streets with nowhere to stay.”

The influx of synthetic drugs such as flakka, a synthetic drug that sends people into frenzy, has exponentially increased the number of drug addicts and, subsequently, of patients returning to Mount Carmel for somewhere to stay, Bonello continued.

Synthetic drugs have exacerbated the problem, which are now offering a cheaper alternative to drugs like cocaine.

“Their family members and friends often give up on them, leaving them with their backs against the wall,” Bonello said. The homeless shelter Dar San Frangisk has taken in some of these individuals, but has subsequently had to refuse them following altercations with other residents.

Assunta Bonello insisted that the patients have a social worker, occupational therapist and forensic psychologist following their case, but that “patients sometimes refuse treatment or rehabilitation because they lost hope that they will ever be sober again.”

Additional reporting by Denise Grech

Paul Cocks joined MaltaToday after having spent years working in newspapers with The Times...