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Suicidal teen patient ‘was left unattended’ at Mt Carmel Hospital

He was found dead on Sunday

Protocol says suicidal patients must be kept under constant watch. Photo: Jonathan Borg

Protocol says suicidal patients must be kept under constant watch. Photo: Jonathan Borg

A teenage patient was found dead in tragic circumstances two days after seeking help at Mount Carmel Hospital, his doctor having recommended he be watched constantly, this newspaper was told.

“The patient was suicidal when he was admitted on Friday, and the doctors ordered Level 1 care – constant watch – due to the acute symptoms he was showing,” Mount Carmel Hospital sources said yesterday. “However, due to huge staff shortages, ensuring a constant watch is not always possible,” they added.

According to protocol, suicidal patients should be kept under a nurse’s constant watch. In this case, no nurse was available to be with the patient, who escaped on Saturday after breaking open a toilet window, the sources noted. To make matters worse, the CCTV system was not working at the time of the incident and the security staff did not realise that a patient had escaped from the hospital. According to the sources, hospital staff only noticed the patient was missing hours later.

The youth’s lifeless body was found in a Buġibba hotel on Sunday. There were no indications that third parties were involved, and the sources said his death did not appear to be the result of natural causes.

Staff shortages have been the norm for years

The sources said the incident should serve to again underscore the reality at Mount Carmel Hospital and make the health authorities realise the situation there was getting worse every day.

“This is not the first time that Level 1 orders were not followed because there are not enough nurses to fulfil such duties. Staff shortages have been the norm for years at the mental health hospital,” they insisted.

Making it clear Mount Carmel Hospital had been “in neglect” and “in a dire situation” for years, including under the Nationalist government, the sources pointed the finger at politicians.

“Elections are always a problem, because politicians try to please nurses who ask to be transferred from Mount Carmel. This happened again last June, with many never being replaced,” said one official who has been working at the mental health hospital for many years and insisted on anonymity.

In an official statement on Sunday, the government said an administrative inquiry or-dered by the Health Ministry and a magisterial inquiry into the teen’s death were under way.

In reply to questions sent by this newspaper, a Health Ministry spokeswoman confirmed that two inquiries were under way: a magisterial inquiry headed by Magistrate Natasha Galea Sciberras, and an administrative inquiry led by Prof. Joe Cacciattolo.

Mount Carmel Hospital has attracted criticism for years. Last November the Times of Malta carried pictures of the physical state of some patient wards, where parts of the ceiling had to be supported by scaffolding to avoid collapse.

In a report last month, Mental Health Commissioner John Cachia said that “staff dedication, respect and dignity for patients cannot be expected to make up for a lack of investment in the physical environment of care facilities” at Mount Carmel.

The Alliance for Mental Health, which is comprised of the major stakeholders in mental healthcare services, said yesterday that this latest incident again demonstrated the need for a national strategy that did not simply focus on replacing the psychiatric hospital but also on changing the current approach to mental healthcare.

ivan.camilleri@timesofmalta.com

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