Patients at the State mental health hospital had been made to endure freezing cold showers in the height of winter because there was no hot water for months on end, according to a former senior official.
Paul Dalli, the former Chief Operations Officer at Mount Carmel Hospital on Wednesday told a Parliamentary committee that during his tenure he could not take the poor conditions patients were made to suffer through.
"You do not know what it was like. I'm going to be blunt - I just could not take it any longer," he said.
Patients at the mental hospital, he said, would have to shower in the nude near each other with no privacy. Floor tiles in the bathrooms were cracked and dangerous. The hospital, he lamented, had been left to rot into a state of disrepair.
Due to longstanding problems with water boilers, the winter months would see freezing cold showers in around eight of the hsopital's wards, and medical staff had even warned him that certain medication would not work if patients’ body temperatures dropped too low.
Mr Dalli gave a raw account of the state of the beleaguered hospital as members of the Public Accounts Committee grilled him over a National Audit Office report which had flagged suspicious employment during his tenure.
Mr Dalli told the committee that when he took over the COO position, the hospital had already signed a contact with an employment agency.
His hands, he said, were tied and so he had decided to circumvent standard procedure, and use the contract, meant to employ clerks, to engage a slew of handymen and maintenance staff to fix the hospital’s “disastrous state”.
Although this was an irregular way of employing people, Mr Dalli said the alternative was ignoring the “dire” conditions patients were living in.
Asked why this spike in employment had happened around the 2017 election campaign, Mr Dalli dismissed any notion of foul play, saying recruitment efforts had begun some six months earlier, way before the snap election had been announced.
Mr Dalli said he had taken the responsibility upon his shoulders to use the clerical employment system as a “safety valve” to engage “technical” workers, who would tile floors, fix boilers and wards which often had cracked ceilings and sub-standard safety conditions.
“You need to understand what it was like in there when I was there. We had a disastrous state. We did not have enough nurses, we did not even have enough security – we had people escaping from the mental hospital,” he said.
He said his position in the hospital was “not easy”. When he saw the way patients were being mistreated, he wanted to demolish the whole hospital and rebuild it from scratch.
“I like to read and write, and I can say that I truly learnt the meaning of the phrase 'piecemeal' when I worked in that hospital,” he said.
The NAO report found that in many cases, the ‘clerks’ employed as handymen, were often not competent or qualified to conduct the maintenance work required and in many cases, other professionals would have to be outsourced to finish jobs.
Mr Dalli clarified that he never employed any of these ‘clerks’ in licensed professional roles, but as “ladder holders and helpers”.