Malta’s mental health commissioner has encouraged former patients at Mount Carmel to speak up about “far from desirable” conditions at the state-run facility, after a blog post by a woman who spent eight days there went viral.

Commissioner John Cachia said that authorities at the mental healthcare hospital had yet to upgrade protocols, despite him having repeatedly asked them to do so.

“The hospital environment is far from desirable and I have also repeatedly highlighted a number of practices which are still occurring at Mount Carmel Hospital which fall short of respecting patient rights and dignity,” the commissioner said.

"I am glad that finally patients are finding the courage and speaking up too," he added. 

Cachia issued his statement some days after a blog post by a former Mount Carmel patient went viral. In the post, Belle de Jong described the hospital as “a sketchy building that seemed to come straight out of a horror film” and recounted how she was strip-searched, forced to shower alongside other patients and left largely to her own devices.

“Mount Carmel is anything but a place to heal,” de Jong wrote. “If you aren’t mentally ill to begin with, the conditions the place is in will certainly drive you mad.”

The blog post was widely shared and reported and prompted the association of psychiatrists to demand a temporary hospital to replace Mount Carmel while a new facility is built.

Times of Malta has reportedly extensively about the dire state of the Attard hospital. Health Minister Chris Fearne has previously pledged to replace the facility with a new mental health hospital adjacent to Mater Dei Hospital, to be operational by 2025.

On Saturday, commissioner Cachia said much of what de Jong had written was “regrettably similar to many other patients’ views” and “reflects the findings that my Office has been reporting for the past 6 years.”

Cachia said that despite the hospital’s clear shortcomings, professionals working there did the best they could in the circumstances and the average length of hospital stays was now “considerably shorter”.

He acknowledged that the hospital had made several changes to wards and team practices in the past months, but noted that it was up to hospital management to explain the changes and outline their plans to upgrade practices, facilities and services.

“Patients with mental health problems deserve to receive the care they require in the best and most dignified way. A number of reforms in the mental health sector have been put on a pause for far too long,” Cachia said, adding that while the COVID-19 pandemic had complicated work to implement a national mental health strategy, patient care could not be put on hold indefinitely.

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