Psychiatric patients have been left behind by the national health scheme (Gesy), state doctors union (Pasyki) said on Wednesday as they went ahead with a three-hour work stoppage at the Athalassa hospital in Nicosia.

With a banner reading: “end to anachronistic treatment conditions”, a group of mental health professionals gathered outside the hospital at 10am.

Photos also showed a red sprayed-painted slogan on the walls of the building reading “your mental hospitals stink”.

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Shortly afterwards, the head of the State Health Services Organization (Okypy) Christis Loizidis condemned the vandalism.

“Such actions cannot be tolerated. We have made a complaint to police,” he said.

He said such incidents “overshadow the great work” of Okypy as well as actions to upgrade the services in its hospitals.

However the protesters did not seem to concur.

“Mental health was never a priority, so there were always problems,” Pasyki’s spokesman and psychiatrist Lambros Samartzis told the Cyprus Mail.

But “the Gesy reform left behind the mentally ill,” he added.

The strike, which was meant as a warning to authorities, was also supported by state nurses’ union (Pasyno).

“We believe that the main problem is the building facilities, which force the staff to work in really miserable conditions, endangering their lives but also the health and safety of patients,” nurses said in a written statement.

Calling for an immediate solution, nurses said that they had “shown tolerance,” but “the situation is not improving”.

The old infrastructure was also among the reasons behind doctors’ strike. The main building of the Athalassa mental hospital in Nicosia was constructed in 1964 and parts of it was declared unfit for human habitation by the town planning department in 2019.

Earlier this year, state health services organisation announced the construction of the first plan of the new mental hospital amounting to about €7.5m. However, discussions about a new building have been ongoing for about two decades without the plans being implemented.

Understaffing and overcrowding of patients are also among the issues that must be resolved, Samartzis said.

“The hospital is currently at 130 per cent capacity. The increase in the number of admissions started even before the pandemic,” he explained.

There are no infrastructures to support those patients after treatment, or to prevent their forced admission at the hospital, Samartzis said. Athalassa is the only reference hospital for involuntary admissions in Cyprus.

There are seven psychiatrists at the facilities, including the head of mental health services Anna Paradisioti. Two of them, have been brought in from other state mental facilities of Nicosia, leaving those similarly understaffed, Samartzis said.

Another problem are the medicine shortages, an issue which state health services organisation (Okypy) said it has been resolved.

“The doctors at the hospital are still faced with medicine shortages because Athalassa does not purchase drugs from the software nor are they reimbursed by the Health Insurance Organisation (HIO),” the psychiatrist said.

The mental health professional demanded for an immediate establishment of procedures for the safe delivery of medicines to the hospital.

“It is very dangerous to offer alternative treatment to such chronic patients,” he added.

Athalassa hospital is also in need of a general practitioner, pharmacist and a social worker, Pasyky said.

The relevant authorities, despite being aware of the situation at the health care facility, have been “deaf” to the health professionals’ long-standing requests, Pasyki’s announcement last week stated.