Patients at the Athalassa psychiatric hospital are being kept in a “hostage situation” due to a lack of social services allowing them to be discharged, the state doctors’ union Pasyki said on Friday.

They say overcrowding at the hospital “has become a daily phenomenon, which inevitably reduces accessibility to the hospital for patients going through urgent mental health crises”.

They also said that “in the majority of cases, discharged patients have nowhere to go, since relatives or residential hostels are unable to provide them with accommodation”.

“The possibility of discharges is further undermined by the fact social rehabilitation is impossible as the hospital has had no social workers in recent years”, they added.

They added that “reduced accessibility, overcrowding, and reduced living space due to the inevitable use of spare beds, are a violation of patients’ rights to quality care, as is the unnecessary extension of patients’ stays at the hospital”.

“Every day, doctors on call must fight to find beds for their patients”, they said, adding that in recent days the only available beds at the hospital were in its Covid-19 clinic.

This meant that those who had recently recovered from the virus were unable to leave the clinic and remain with patients who were still suffering from the disease, they said.

In addition, they say the hospital gives priority to cases whereby a patient has been ordered to be admitted, adding that this “has the inevitable consequence that there are often no beds for optional hospitalisations”.

The statement comes after Health Minister Popi Kanari announced her intention to visit the hospital next week.

“I will definitely visit the hospital … I have already been twice, the third time is in the pipeline and due to these circumstances, I will bring my next visit forward”, she said.

She promised to “find solutions” to the problem, saying that accommodation for discharged patients will be created in Latsia “in the immediate future”.

She said this initiative “will decongest the situation a little”.

Additionally, she said her ministry aims to create a separate clinic at the Limassol hospital with the aim of relieving the stress on Athalassa.

She also said that the new building at Athalassa will be inaugurated in April, and that this will leave mental health services in Cyprus “in a much better situation”.

The issue was highlighted on Thursday after nurses’ union Pasyno claimed that patients at Athalassa were sleeping on sofas as there was no place to put them.

They said Athalassa had “been pushed to the edge of a cliff” due to overcrowding “and the unacceptable and inexcusable attitude of [state healthcare services provider] Okypy, who do not realise the magnitude of the problems”.

Okypy hit back, saying there was an entirely empty ward patients could have been put in.