Politicians are to blame for the situation at Mount Carmel Hospital
by Kurt Borg
On Friday 2nd February, a teenager admitted himself into Mount Carmel Hospital, the island’s mental health hospital in Attard, reporting suicidal tendencies. Psychiatrists gave strict orders for the youth to be kept under constant watch. A few hours later, on Saturday, the young man forced himself out of a bathroom window, and escaped. On Sunday, just two days after his admission, the youth’s body was found in a hotel in Buġibba. With foul play, accidents and natural causes ruled out, not much is left to speculation on what caused the 18-year-old’s death.
The question begs itself: how does one escape constant watch care in a mental health hospital with security staff at the hospital’s gates? It was reported that the security staff did not realise that a patient escaped since the CCTV system was not working. It even took the hospital staff several hours to realise that the patient went missing.
Sources from Mount Carmel Hospital told Times of Malta that constant watch of a patient is not always possible due to huge staff shortages. It sounds incredible but, the source adds, it’s not the first time that this happened since staff shortages have been the norm for years at this hospital.
In such circumstances, it’s easy to place the blame on the hospital staff. But that is precisely what we won’t be doing and what we shouldn’t do. The finger should be pointed at politicians. And that is what the sources from Mount Carmel Hospital did in their honest and precise comments. The sources report how the hospital had been neglected for years by different government administrations. Moreover, during election time, politicians try to please nurses who ask for a transfer away from the hospital — because it’s often claimed that working at this hospital is like being demoted to work in a second-class hospital. What’s worse, the “anything for the votes” politicians do not ensure that the necessary replacements are made for whoever gets transferred, leaving that vacuum to either result in over-burdened staff or dangerous lacunae — that is, the precise conditions for a vulnerable youth to escape the hospital, with deadly repercussions.
This issue is not a new one; it’s a perennial problem that is continuously raised by the sensible and responsible staff at Mount Carmel. More spokespersons remarked how the situation has been deteriorating over the past years and has now “reached desperate proportions”; “we have now reached rock bottom.” The sources from the hospital continue to say:
We can tell you today there are 22 patients who are supposed to be under constant watch. But it cannot happen, because there are no nurses,” the sources noted. They said that in certain wards, there was only one nurse for between 30 and 40 patients.
The situation is such that people are dying. And the staff knew that this situation was bound to happen. It might happen again if the urgency of the situation is not acknowledged. And the politicians know it: “Last weekend’s tragic death is the result of what we have been telling the government for years. Something, very fast, must be done, as these deaths are not justified in any manner,” the sources said.
Mount Carmel Hospital is not new to such controversy. The physical environment in certain wards is in terrible state, as recently published photos and horrific testimonies from inside the hospital clearly show. In late 2017, a middle-aged patient at Mount Carmel Hospital died after contracting Legionnaires’ disease from the water system. The Minister insists that the hospital is “the safest it has been in 30 years”. With a teenager dying within two days of admission, a person dying because of a poor water system, and another escapee in May 2016 who has never been found, one wonders how safe this hospital really is.
Regarding the 2016 escapee, the Malta Union of Midwives and Nurses had declared an industrial dispute with the Health Department over Mount Carmel Hospital, citing the shortage in nurses as the reason that led to the escape. This article sheds more light on the terrible physical and working conditions in Mount Carmel, such as nurses having to constantly look after three patients when, in fact, they should be constantly watching one patient.
Relatives of Mount Carmel patients have voiced their grave concerns that what happened to the youth last week could easily happen to their relatives: “I don’t want my son to end up dead because there are no nurses. This cannot happen in a country that boasts of a thriving economy. I will sue the government if something happens to my son because of such negligence.”
It is correct that the staff and relatives are placing the blame on politicians for this youth’s death, and any further harm that this negligence might result in. This is not an administrative or HR situation; the root cause of this death is structural and political. Our current politics is killing people by letting them die. In the same way that our politics let Haji die under a bridge, let Mamdou Kamara “die of fright” beaten in a Detention Service van, let a 7-year-old child die in a socially deprived and neglected family last month.
The Minister called the social workers “unsung heroes”. And they are. However, we call you, the politicians, “sung unheroes”. You occupy a place in society where you’re looked up to. You hold real power over people’s lives and minds. You live in luxuries and have access to the resources needed to effect real change in society. Yet such gross inequalities, injustices and abuses persist.
We will not blame the nurses for this death. We will not place responsibility on the aching backs of these care workers. We believe them. We believe that they are under-staffed, under-equipped, over-worked, over-tired. We know that they cannot do the impossible. We believe their stories. We acknowledge their anger. We know that they have told you multiple times that things are going wrong. We know that you do not give priority to their words.
We, therefore, join PHROM — the Platform of Human Rights Organisations in Malta — in their shock at the news of this teenager’s tragic death, and regard the cause of death to have been the result of a number of institutional failures. We place responsibility on politicians, whose duty it is to ensure that the necessary funds, infrastructure, working conditions, and policies are in place to ensure that professional care is given to vulnerable groups in this supposedly thriving country.
We the people should and will go out on the streets to protest against this political negligence. We as a society regard these occurrences as intolerable. We will continue to expose the stories that these care workers tell about what’s going on within the walls of this hospital. And we will listen. This website can be contacted at any time, and anonymity will be respected.