Mount Carmel Hospital. Photo: Matthew MirabelliMount Carmel Hospital. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

Infrastructural and safety issues at Mount Carmel Hospital have “started to be addressed” but the momentum needed to be sustained, Mental Health Commissioner John Cachia said on Thursday.

He was speaking to the Times of Malta following the performance report by the National Audit Office, which found several shortcomings at the Attard hospital.

Read: Mt Carmel Hospital is under-funded, under staffed and lacking security, audit finds

Dr Cachia said that refurbishment and upgrading plans shown to his office as well as the progress of preparatory and remedial works achieved so far augured well.

“We hope this momentum will be sustained,” he remarked.

The Audit Office report, tabled in Parliament earlier this week, complements the findings of annual reports the Office of the Commissioner for Mental Health submitted over the years, Dr Cachia noted.

In his 2016 annual report, published earlier this year, the commissioner commented that the dedication shown by staff could not be expected to make up for the lack of investment in the physical environment of the care facilities.

He insisted that safety measures were “sorely needed”, adding it was unacceptable that a lounge doubled up as a smoking area.

In its review, the NAO highlighted similar concerns, noting that security staff were not carrying out tasks involving the physical element (such as searches or restraint).

Robust and resilient leadership is fundamental

Furthermore, there was poor monitoring of the hospital’s master keys, it added. Security at the hospital’s main gate was found to be lax and the CCTV system “left much to be desired”.

Recommendations by his office, the public mental health services, NGOs and, now, the Auditor General, on a strategic way forward for the hospital abounded, Dr Cachia said.

“The challenge is to translate these recommendations into coherent implementation plans that are appropriately funded and accompanied by sound human resource planning and ongoing staff training within the shortest possible timeframe,” he said.

“Robust and resilient leadership is fundamental to bring about the desired organisational and operational changes targeted at the well-being of patients, families and staff.”

The Alliance for Mental Health said the Audit Office’s report was “sadly, a fair description of the current situation of the mental health services in Malta”.

“It is no wonder that stigma about mental health still remains in the country,” the alliance’s chief operations officer, Daniela Calleja Bitar, told the Times of Malta.

The alliance stressed that the majority of those suffering from mental disorders lived within the community with the support of families and friends.

“They face ongoing challenges that need to be acknowledged and addressed,” it noted.

Meanwhile, the Democratic Party said the Auditor General’s conclusions further proved the successive reports by the Mental Health Commissioner “had fallen on deaf ears”.

The dignity and rights of a voiceless and vulnerable group of people were not being cared for, it continued.

The Health Ministry said that, together with the hospital management, it was analysing the audit.

“An official reaction to the report would be issued in the next few days,” it said.

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