An inspection by the health ministry at a psychiatric children's ward in the town of Bites has revealed gross malpractice: unnecessarily large amounts of tranquilizers to pacify distraught patients, injections being used as a form of punishment, children being placed in isolation and left there for much too long -even restrictions on taking a shower. As one of the inspectors put it "the place looked as if time had stood still for forty years and more" The results of the inspection -which was made on the grounds of a complaint from the Children at Threat NGO - has come as a shock and has left many people wondering whether such practices are widespread or whether this was a shocking exception. We put that question to Andrea Studihradova - president of the Czech Association for Mental Health :
"I hope it is a shocking exception. But the problem is that there are no regular inspections made at psychiatric wards. There is no law or regulation which would make them compulsory. They only happen on the grounds of a complaint. So I cannot rule out such behaviour at other clinics. Basically it is the heads of individual psychiatric hospitals and wards who lay down the rules. In some cases they are very progressive, they monitor the quality of care elsewhere in Europe and send their employees to special training courses and advocate a humane approach. But again, there is no law or regulation governing this process -so it depends on the head of the clinic and how open they are to new trends."
The Association for Mental Health is lobbying for a law which would lay down a strict codex of ethics in such wards and which would also introduce regular monitoring of care at psychiatric hospitals and clinics. But the wellbeing of mental patients is not getting sufficient attention either from the public or parliament deputies. Andrea Studihradova admits that the Association for Mental Health is putting a lot hope in the country's entry to the EU which should bring about radical change.
"Accession to the EU is sure to make a big impact, because the EU sets great store by human rights and in its last progress report on the Czech Republic the country was criticized for the quality of care given to mental patients.I think that pressure from the EU, once we are members, will most certainly lead to improved conditions at all psychiatric clinics. I think we can soon expect to see a codex of patients' rights at these clinics -which is still absent in many of them."
Pressure from the EU is already making itself felt. In response to calls from the European Mental Disability Advocacy Centre the Czech labour and Social Affairs Ministry is drafting a bill which would ban institutes for the mentally disabled from using iron cages or netted beds, tying them down for long hours or using excessive amounts of medication to pacify them.
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