28th May 2023

Bulgaria mental-health patients found covered in flies

  • Kardzhali Hospital was among the facilities visited by the delegation (Photo: Council of Europe)
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Bulgaria has been condemned for degrading and inhumane treatment of people in state psychiatric hospitals and social care homes.

"They were found by the visiting delegation to be lying in rusted beds and dirty mattresses covered in flies," Alan Mitchell told EUobserver, last week.

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Mitchell is the president of an anti-torture committee at the Strasbourg-based Council of Europe.

He described a "nauseating stench of urine" in some of the facilities, with some patients neglected and restrained in belts for days on end.

Allegations of slaps, kicks and others beaten with sticks have also been made.

Others still, who had volunteered to be hospitalised, are now de-facto detained against their will and held without hope, says a report by the anti-torture committee.

"This primitive situation adds further to the impression that Bulgaria remains decades behind expectations regarding a modern state's provision of mental healthcare," notes the report.

The findings were made following a visit by a delegation from the committee to Bulgaria last August.

The team included mental health experts and a forensic psychiatrist, among others.

Together they visited three psychiatric hospitals (Kardzhali, Karlukovo, and Lovech) run by the Bulgaria's ministry of health.

They also went to homes for people with learning disabilities and psychiatric disorders in Banya, Gara Lakatnik, and Petkovo.

The homes are run by the ministry of labour and social policy.

"They have been abandoned by the state," said Mitchell, noting the facilities are severely understaffed.

The committee had made similar complaints over the Bulgarian state neglect and abuse in 2017.

Patients in one home in Radovets had been found covered in flies "with the floors flooded in urine and faeces."

Mitchell said the Bulgarian state had done nothing to improve the conditions.

It is the first time the committee has ever issued a public statement on psychiatry and social care in any of the 47 member states of the Council of Europe.

The other states have also been visited.

Although they too have issues, improvements have not been made in Bulgaria, an EU member state.

"Public statements are incredibly unusual for the committee to make," said Mitchell, noting their concerns have been dismissed and ignored by the Bulgarian state for years.

The Bulgarian government did not reply to emailed questions on the abuse and neglect.

Omicron wreaks havoc across eastern Europe

Romania's underfunded public health system was on the verge of collapse during the last surge of cases. Hospital morgues were full, and some patients were transferred abroad for treatment because Covid-19 intensive care units were at full capacity.

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