In the midst of all the chaos caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Mater Dei’s psychiatric ward and mental health outpatient services were suddenly shut off to free up resources for potential coronavirus patients.
And while Malta’s Mental Health Strategy always intended to branch out mental health services towards the community, psychiatrists have warned that the current alternative is too weak to handle the looming mental health crisis.
“We’re aware of Malta’s ten-year mental health strategy, but what has been done until now?” psychiatry consultant Dr Nigel Camillieri probed on Lovin Malta’s news bulletin Lovin Daily.
“There’s €6 million a year allocated to mental health, but where is it going? What structural changes have happened to Mount Camel Hospital? How are we increasing the amount of staff in mental health services? These changes need to happen today and not in ten years time.”
“Shockwaves are felt and affect private practice too,” added Dr Etienne Muscat, another consultant.
“A mental health crisis is a massive reality of our country, so the level of services available is critically important.”
One in four people will suffer from a mental health disorder in their lifetime, and the pandemic has only exacerbated people’s need for such treatment.
Malta’s mental health strategy details a shift from in-patient services at Mount Carmel Hospital to in-patient and outpatient services at Mater Dei and into the community. A four-room psychiatry unit has recently opened at the Qormi Health Centre.
“But these new rooms are just crumbs,” Camillieiri explained, warning it won’t cut it for the thousands of patients who need the services.
He also pointed out that the need to travel to Qormi instead of Mater Dei to access treatment only adds a burden for those in central areas, with San Ġwann, Sliema and the surrounding areas void of any mental health clinics.
A lack of sound communication of the 10-year-plan, transparency with stakeholders and severe under-resourcing are impeding their ability to work, the doctors warned.
“What we’re against is using COVID-19 to hijack services”, Muscat said. “We’re against this abruptness and lack of consultation.”
Malta’s Mental Health Alliance has flagged the situation as dire and warned that many patients were uninformed of the closure of mental health services at the general hospital.
“Lastly it’s the voice of the patient. Why haven’t patients been consulted?” Camillieri continued. “On the way here, I was on a phone with the Mental Health Alliance member who represents patients. They are receiving repeated phone calls that all their appointments are postponed and they don’t know what’s happening. This is inundating the workload of community clinics. We need many more clinics, staff and active change.”
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