Expert panel suggests proper training for staff

The expert committee, which looked into the circumstances that led to the death of a mentally ill patient in the forensic ward of the Mental Health Centre (MHC) at Peroorkada here on December 4, has reported that acute staff shortage, infrastructural deficiencies and overcrowding of patients in the forensic ward were the basic problems which resulted in the unfortunate incident.

Only 26 single cells

The committee pointed out that while there were 64 patients in the male forensic wards, there were only 26 single cells.

Patients with mental illnesses are prone to unpredictable violent behaviour. However, two patients who do not display any violent behaviour may be put together in a single cell by the hospital authorities for lack of space.

In this instance, unfortunately, it resulted in one patient being strangulated by the other during the night, the report said.

The four-member expert committee has pointed out that there were only three staff on duty to watch over the 64 patients, who are spread out in five forensic wards. While it can be argued that the staff had to be more alert, it is virtually impossible for three persons to keep vigil over all the patients, it has been pointed out in the panel's report.

The committee has recommended that the old-fashioned dark and dingy cells be replaced by single rooms where the patients can freely move about and where they can be very secure.

More facilities for single confinement of patients will have to be created immediately, the committee has reported.

The staff in forensic wards should be put on rotation duty and they should be given proper training in handling violent patients, it has been suggested.

Setting up closed circuit televisions (CCTV) to view the cell rooms may be necessary but these should be installed in such a way that there are no human rights violations, it has been recommended.

‘Better facilities’

The Indian Psychiatric Society has asked the government to take immediate steps to resolve the basic issues dogging the mental hospitals in the State rather than putting the entire blame of unfortunate incidents on the doctors and other staff in these institutions.

In a statement here, the society said that the latest incident had occurred because the government had done nothing to improve the infrastructural or staff deficiencies in the Mental Health Centre at Peroorkada, highlighted following the death of Satnam Singh at MHC.

It demanded that the government immediately appoint a committee to study the issues in all mental health centres in the State and to submit a comprehensive report to improve the care of mentally ill patients.

MHC staff protest

The entire staff of the Mental Health Centre, including doctors, nurses, other para medical staff, social workers, pharmacists and gardeners, stayed away from work for an hour on Tuesday to protest against the unceremonious manner in which MHC Superintendent G. Sunilkumar had been removed from his post, even before the expert committee had submitted its report.

The staff representatives said that government was making scapegoats out of employees who were sincerely engaged in doing their jobs, rather than taking steps to resolve the shortcomings in the institution.

The staff said that the authorities were not at all justified in removing Dr. Sunilkumar, who had initiated a host of welfare and rehabilitative activities for patients in the hospital on his own initiative and with no support from the government.