Mental health professionals have warned that the removal of psychiatric services from Mater Dei Hospital had resulted in long delays and confusion for patients, exacerbating their conditions.
The Mental Health Association said services were experiencing an unprecedented strain due to increased demand and limited supply in staff, while the COVID-19 pandemic had brought about a spike in mental health issues due to bereavement, isolation, loss of income and fear.
At the same time, the association said, the closure of the psychiatric out-patients department along with the psychiatric unit at Mater Dei Hospital (MDH) had removed any mental health presence at the general hospital, "contrary to what has been promised in the National Mental Health Strategy", the association said.
"The mental health services have had to undergo drastic changes in the way they operate but before any changes to the service are implemented, one must ensure that throughout the transition period people are provided with the appropriate care, monitoring and follow-up, as otherwise they may succumb to their illness.
"It is an utter disgrace that the ward at Mater Dei has been closed down, for it was an essential service, which needed further development in its standard operating system and easier access for patients. Families are being left in misery and in dire need of medical assistance, but are not being catered-for. If a patient refuses to go to Mount Carmel, and their family also is unable to care for them, who then takes care of them?"
The association said many patients had been waiting six to nine months for a renewed appointment, after a shift from treatment at Mater Dei to regional clinics around Malta.
This, it said, meant patients who had been under the care of a particular consultant for years now had to start afresh with a completely new team of people, exacerbating anxieties and confusion.
"Whilst the MHA condones the shift from Mater Dei in to the community, it does not however, agree with the fact that patients and carers have not been informed of this switch and disagrees with the removal of the psychiatric unit from MDH," the association said.
"Moving mental health care completely away from mainstream mental health is a mistake as it is further fuelling the stigma associated with mental health and deterring people from reaching-out for necessary treatment.
"There have also been reports of overcrowding at some of the regionalised mental health clinics around Malta. This is especially an issue due to Covid-19 preventative measures and must be addressed immediately."
The association called for the government formulary covering psychiatric medication to be urgently revised and updated, as several psychiatric medications were having to be purchased by families at a high cost since they were not being offered by the state.
It also recommended the setting up of a Proper Crisis Intervention Unit at Mater Dei Hospital, on a 24/7 basis and manned by trained professionals including Security Personnel, to be able to cater for any type of psychiatric emergency.