The new mental health hospital adjacent to Mater Dei is not expected to be up and running before 2025, Health Minister Chris Fearne told Times of Malta on Wednesday.
The deadline was given during a news conference marking the launch of a public consultation period on a mental health strategy covering 2020 to 2030.
Dr Fearne stressed that this strategy was not only about infrastructural works and the refurbishment of wards. It was also meant to focus on improving community care, prevention, and the effects of substance abuse.
The document, which includes 75 proposals, seeks to reach out to children in schools, to flag any potential mental health problems from a young age.
However, such targets would require the transformation of the mental health service network, in other words, a better infrastructure than the existing one, which was largely based on the services being provided at Mount Carmel Hospital.
The latter would be re-purposed as a psycho-geriatric care facility, shifting its function to an institution housing aging patients requiring specialised mental care.
Consequently, its present function would be taken over by a new hospital planned to be constructed adjacent to Mater Dei. The site has been chosen in line with government’s policy to provide mental health services as part of mainstream care, in an effort to reduce stigma.
However, the document gives no precise time frames. Asked to outline the government’s plans, the Health Minister said that a tract of land had been earmarked following talks with the Lands Authority. “Access to this new hospital will be from Mater Dei,” he noted.
Dr Fearne added the ministry was working on the medical brief, which sought to determine the nature of the facilities required in this new hospital such as the number of beds and clinics.
Once this process was completed - by the end of the first quarter of next year - the planning process would start.
“We expect works to start within two years from the submission of plans,” the minister said.
He added that works were expected to take about four years, meaning that the new mental health hospital should be ready around the middle of the next decade.
Dr Fearne pointed out that apart from this project, the government was also embarking on other major projects at Mater Dei, including the construction of a new five-storey underground car park. Works on the latter are scheduled to start next year, he said.
One had also to keep in mind that during these works Mater Dei had to keep functioning and this required detailed planning so as not to disrupt the services, Dr Fearne remarked.
Meanwhile, refurbishment works were underway at Mount Carmel Hospital as part of a €30 million project spread over five years. €9 million had been allocated for infrastructural works this year alone including urgent repairs to the roofs of a number of wards.