Robert Abela dragged an official photographer yesterday to a visit to the offices of the Richmond Foundation. He published a statement full of sweet nothings about how he cares for mental health and how he got his government to give money to an NGO that works in the sector.

Easy enough.

It’s not like he’s going to face the press and speak to them about mental health these days. It’s not like he’s going to take the press on a tour of filthy squat toilets and common areas that give you reasons to check into a mental hospital if you first walk into them relatively sane.

The issue came up on the national agenda due to the courage of a couple of female patients at the mental hospital who decided to speak up and tell the press just how bad things are.

The first one was an article by hospital patient Belle De John writing on SideStreet a few weeks ago. An anonymous patient followed with an interview with Times of Malta’s Claudia Calleja.

The words “cell”, “disgusting”, “hell” came up several times.

A Times of Malta leader lamented that “one of the measures by which to judge the progress of civilisation is the way it treats those sectors of its population which can be considered vulnerable”. The way we’re treating the mentally ill is yet another failure of our civilisation. We have trusted our government to provide mental health on our behalf and the government’s attitude to the sector represents us all as heartless savages.

It’s not just that descriptions we’re reading of Mount Carmel Hospital recall Midnight Express.

Consider also that Mater Dei Hospital no longer provides mental health services to outpatients. On top of that, the government has shuffled the way doctors are allocated to patients which means patients that have been treated by a psychiatrist for some time have had their doctor changed mid-therapy. You’d feel uncomfortable if that happened to you when you get treatment for any physical ailments. Try to imagine the discomfort it would cause you if you get your doctor changed while undergoing treatment for mental health.

But back to Mount Carmel. The charming Victorian outward appearance is a shell for a primitive Victorian interior. A new hospital was intended to replace it for ages. It kept being postponed behind other priorities but was definitively promised to follow the completion of the Oncology Hospital next to Mater Dei. The Oncology Hospital has been ready for years. No one has seen as much as a plan for the new Mount Carmel.

This is a complete policy disaster.

What does the government do? It throws money at an NGO to look like it’s doing something. Now the Richmond Foundation does sterling work. It depends mostly on donations – as NGOs do – but the hefty government grants allow it to throw its nets wider.

But NGOs in mental health care are needed to fill in gaps left by public services. Robert Abela has shifted the onus. He pours in money to fill in the gaps that the Richmond Foundation cannot keep up with, completely neglecting the core function of government to provide mental health services which belong to 2021, not 1821.

What is especially callous is that to manage the bad press they’re getting because some patients had the courage to tell their story, Robert Abela does not merely run away from the press. He uses NGOs who give all they can to try to make up for his failings in order to have their good work rub off on him.

Iboss b’sorm ħaddieħor.