Starved of funds, now starved of food: pain bites at Greek hospital

By next month there will not be enough food for the hospital's 400 patients

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The Independent Online

Mental patients in a psychiatric hospital on a Greek island are facing starvation in the next couple of weeks as their last reserves of food run out and their suppliers refuse to deliver more because they have not been paid by the government.

Dr Yiannis Antartis, the director of Leros state psychiatric hospital in the eastern Aegean, told The Independent that by next month there would not be enough food for his 400 patients. He explained that "10 days ago our suppliers stopped supplying food such as food, milk and other products because we owe them €1.25m".

Mental patients are among the Greeks most vulnerable to becoming victims of the government's lack of money as it seeks to reduce its budget deficit as part of its austerity agreement with the EU. The EU had played a substantial role in upgrading Greek mental-health services after scandals 20 years ago in which it was revealed that patients were often chained to their beds and funds for improvements were embezzled.

Dr Antartis says his hospital was hit by the consequences of the Greek financial crisis four years ago when the state-run social-security fund failed to pay it €8m (£6.5m) in 2008 that was owed to the hospital. Even with careful economising, the hospital has finally run out of money to pay its suppliers. A public letter to the Health Ministry and political parties from Dr Antartis produced €80,000, but this is not nearly enough. He says there is food in storage at the hospital for three weeks, but "after the end of the month food will be very short and I am worried about the health of the patients". He added that he is hoping that the general election on Sunday has to produce some sort of a solution "or we don't know what we will do".

The Leros hospital, where patients now face malnutrition, was at the centre of a scandal which broke when a BBC documentary revealed that patients were kept in medieval conditions. Leros, where there were 3,000 psychiatric patients in hospitals, became known as "the island of the damned".

The EU provided resources but as recently as 2009 it was revealed that psychiatric hospitals in Athens were decrepit, understaffed and some patients were strapped to their beds overnight.