–over lack of consensus
A motion seeking state intervention to improve the conditions at the National Psychiatric Hospital was withdrawn from the house on Thursday night, after the two major parties failed to reach a consensus.
The decision to withdraw the motion was announced by opposition Chief Whip Lance Carberry, who said amendments proposed by Health Minister Dr Leslie Ramsammy changed the “substance” of its intent. “In the circumstances, we would withdraw the motion,” Carberry informed House Speaker Ralph Ramkarran, to loud groans from members of the House after a prolonged debate that only ended shortly after 10 pm. At the time, the passage of the motion with Ramsammy’s amendments was imminent.
The motion was moved by PNCR-1G MP Dr John Austin, who sought to have the Health Ministry take immediate action to correct the unsatisfactory level of sanitation and hygiene, severe staff shortages, lack of adequate security and the lack of adequate working and living conditions for patients and staff at the institution. He also sought to have the Health Minister provide the National Assembly with a written report of corrective actions, within six months of the passage of the motion. (Austin’s amendment was error ridden–misidentifying the institution as the Fort Canje Hospital; and politically incorrect–describing the patients as “inmates”–and he proposed amendments to correct these deficiencies.)
Ramsammy admitted that the conditions at the institution were less than desirable. He then launched into a passionate defence of the administration’s efforts, saying that by late into the PNC’s administration time in office the facility had been reduced to “a national disgrace.” He also accused Austin of trying to distort the true picture; including the fact government has made mental health a national priority and increased budgetary spending for it. In this vein, he sought amendments to recognise the efforts of the government to improve the conditions at the facility while calling for it “to accelerate its efforts” and “further improve” conditions.
Austin said the National Psychiatric Hospital was the only institution of its kind in Guyana and was in need of urgent attention by the government. According to him, the patients and staff at the hospital are forced to live in inadequate conditions where there are several health and security risks. He said that the surrounding area is rife with bushes which serve as a haven for dangerous animals and criminals. Further he added that there was inadequate security at the hospital, which he said contributed to the high number of complaints about patients being sexually assaulted by persons outside the hospital.
Additionally, Austin said, there continues to be a problem with the water supply to this facility since the reservoir is frequently empty. Consequently potable water has to be tapped from the neighbouring New Amsterdam Hospital in order to meet the needs of the residents of the Psychiatric Hospital.
He urged that specific actions be taken to ensure that the human rights of all patients of the institution were upheld, since in spite of their mental state, they were still human beings.
In response, new PPP/C MP Dr Vishwa Mahadeo admitted that the situation at the Psychiatric Hospital was not ideal but that it had come a long way. He said that since the PPP/C government took over in 1992, the administration engaged in widespread rehabilitation of the buildings and continues to put resources towards the institution.
He said that there have been committed efforts to increase the size of the staff at the institution, in addition to its quality. Currently members of staff are exposed to ongoing training and this serves to improve the quality of services offered to patients. Mahadeo said that while conditions were not as they should be, commendable strides had been made over time.