Patients at rundown Mount Carmel hospital ward moved to ‘new’ ward

Female patients who were living in 'inhumane' conditions were transferred, with plans to close down ward 8, Health Minister Chris Fearne has confirmed

'Refurbishment is currently underway in another area at the hospital, which is still close to the female section,' said Fearne
'Refurbishment is currently underway in another area at the hospital, which is still close to the female section,' said Fearne

MaltaToday has been following the plight of patients who for weeks were forced to live in sub-standard conditions, sleeping on mattresses on the floor and making use of an open toilet. 

A letter penned by the patients gave MaltaToday a first-hand experience of what they had to endure, prompting a visit by the health minister a day after the publication of the story.

The visit resulted in directions being issued to the hospital’s administration to close down ward 8 for good. Ward 8, the minister confirmed, had not been in use and only reopened “due to an influx of patients suffering from substance abuse”.

“The ward was re-opened to cater for the sudden influx,” Fearne said.

Upon visiting the ward an d seeing with his own eyes the unsuitable conditions of the wards – which also made delivery of services inadequate – Fearne ordered that the ward be closed.

“Refurbishment is currently underway in another area at the hospital, which is still close to the female section,” he said.

The area in question used to offer long term care to geriatric patients, who have now been placed in a number of wards where space was available. The works are expected to be completed within a few weeks, with promises to close down ward 8 for good.

Following the patients’ letter, MaltaToday had also reached out to Mental Health Services chairman Anton Grech. The patients had complained of an open toilet, no breakfast service and begging for tea or coffee. 

“Patients who have serious stomach or liver problems have to drink black coffee, and no food is served until 11:45,” the patients wrote. 

“Staff take advantage of [the locked gate] 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.” 

In reply to a series of questions by this newspaper based on these complaints, Grech’s full reply read:

“Ward 8 at Mount Carmel Hospital was recently temporarily reopened following an increase in clients with substance abuse problems. The direction from the Health Ministry to the authorities at Mount Carmel are to relocate the patients from ward 8 into another ward and close down ward 8 completely. In fact structural works are currently being undertaken to refurbish another area at Mount Carmel which can be used as a comprehensive Dual Diagnosis Ward.”

The problems at Mount Carmel Hospital are not restricted to ward 8: the hospital is old and unable to cater for the demand. 

Fearne said it was the government’s plan to start the construction of a new acute mental care hospital next to Mater Dei, in this legislature. Once the new hospital is operational, Mt Carmel will house long-term patients who are unable to live on their own and who require special and dedicated treatment.

Asked when the hospital will get a CEO, Fearne said that the contract of the current acting CEO – surgeon Kevin Schembri – expires in November. “A decision will be taken whether to extend the contract or to appoint someone else.”

Schembri, a resident specialist at Mater Dei’s cardiothoracic surgery, was appointed acting CEO following the post that was vacated by now parliamentary secretary Clifton Grima.