Mental health staff at the Athalassa psychiatric hospital in Nicosia staged a two-hours strike from midday on Monday to protest over the lack of security when inmates from the central Nicosia prisons are brought there for treatment.
In May, public sector union PASYNO urged the justice and health ministries to take action over convicts being taken to Athalassa without proper security, saying it was the most important problem facing the hospital.
In a letter to both ministries, PASYNO said lack of security was endangering the health of the convicts, the staff and the public.
Staff had reached their limit and were ready to take escalating measures, the union said at the time.
“Nursing staff at Athalassa are put in danger as the convicts referred there for treatment are not accompanied by proper security and guards and the process to receive a patient at the hospital and transfer him back to the Central Prison drags on.”
The union said every patient from the prison referred for treatment at Athalassa needed to be accompanied by a security guard so nursing staff would only have their job to carry out.
The union said authorities should also clarify who bears responsibility if a patient or staff member was injured. PASYNO said nursing staff should bear no responsibility if a prisoner escaped.
The concerns resurfaced last week when a convict was hospitalised unguarded and exhibited aggressive behaviour “and put lives at risk”, mental health staff said on Monday.
According to a spokesman for the nursing staff, the incident took place last Friday, when one of two new inmates brought to Athalassa turned violent.
The man began hurling objects at the nurses, and at one point tried to rip an air-conditioning unit off the wall.
The security guards who had escorted the two inmates to Athalassa had meanwhile left.
Staff at the hospital called the prisons to request that the guards return to keep an eye on the new inmates, but to no avail.
They then contacted MMAD (police riot squad) to ask for assistance, but MMAD refused saying this was not their job.
In the end, a prison guard was dispatched to Athalassa.
“This will happen again. Must we wait for someone to get hurt before we take action?” the nurses spokesman said.
In their statement, the union said that “Although we sent letters to the competent ministers of justice and health, and we have repeatedly raised the issue, demanding implementation of the Prison Law 1996 where in accordance with Article 15 (a), each convict must have appropriate accompaniment during their care in the hospital and we have identified the dangers to patients, staff, and society from this practice not being implemented, unfortunately we have not received no response, nor have done or even see any move to solve the problem.
“With the work stoppage we hope those responsible will show the proper sensitivity and to take appropriate measures for the safety of staff and patients.”