‘HUMAN RIGHTS SINKHOLE’: Spanish mental hospital under investigation for patient mistreatment

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PROBED: Conxo hospital has been placed under investigation

AUTHORITIES have opened an investigation into a mental hospital in Galicia following an inspection by officials from Spain’s torture prevention body.

A public prosecutor in the region ordered the probe to be opened into Conxo psychiatric hospital following the visit from the National Preventative Mechanism against Torture staff last November.

A mental health association has also filed a complaint with the prosecutors on behalf of one of the hospital’s patients. Investigators claimed the hospital’s treatment of its patients was “extreme”, according to media reports.

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Miguel Anxo Garcia, a spokesperson for the Galician Movement for the Defence of Mental Health, said Conxo was a “human rights sinkhole”.

Galicia’s Health Service, responding to the claims, said refurbishments had been undertaken at the hospital and patient’s illnesses often made it difficult for them to participate in activities there.

Five officials from the torture prevention group, including experts and a consultant, made the unannounced visit to the hospital. They interviewed its management, medical team, staff members and a number of its 221 patients.

They concluded Galicia’s regional authorities had a case to answer over allegations of the extreme treatment of patients, irregular admissions and a failure to monitor patient progress.

Investigators found staff treated patients with respect and affection but almost half of the hospital’s patients had lost hope of ever being released.

The team claimed there was no doctor to sign off patients who voluntarily admitted themselves to the hospital meaning there was no proof they were capable of provided proper consent. Galicia’s health authority said they would rectify this.

Investigators claimed patients had told them they were sometimes restrained as punishment, which is illegal under Spanish law and which health authorities deny.

The team also claimed they had detected cases of over-medicating difficult patients. The Health Service said it responsibility for choosing correct doses lay with doctors and added drugs are used to sedate patients in extreme cases and for brief periods.

Those probing the hospital claimed it fell short of the criteria for a modern psychiatric unit. The team said there were not enough resources for outpatient care and attention, infrastructure was obsolete and that patients were not able to keep their own belongings in bedrooms.

SERGAS, the Galician Health Service, said outpatient rehabilitation resources were in place. It added long term patients had a wide range of activities.

Xose Ramon Giron, head of the Federation of the Associations of Families and People with Mental Illness in Galicia (FEAFES), said “systematic” patients’ rights violations took place at the hospital.

“This kind of unit is illegal and it shouldn’t exist. It violates the rights of those who are disabled and vulnerable in the extreme,” Giron said.

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