Urgent Action to end violence in the Ljubljana Psychiatric hospital, Slovenia

On May 31st, 2023, N1 – a multimedia information platform in Slovenia, published an investigative article with testimonies of patients who were hospitalized in the Ljubljana Psychiatric Hospital (Slovenia), their relatives, several employees and former employees, representatives of users and others, about the violence to which patients are subjected in the hospital.[1]

One of the patients shared this testimony of forced hospitalization for N1:

They gave me two injections, by force. The technician nailed the injection into my body. They didn’t tell me what they were giving me. Then they lowered the blinds so that other patients could not see into the room. They beat me in the testicles and all over my body. They pressed the pillow directly on my face. I had the feeling that they wanted to kill me. I was suffocating. I thought I was going to die,” he said. Then they left him alone, he said – still tied up – and he fell asleep under the influence of the medication. “My whole body hurt for another week or two.”

This is just one of the stories that N1 reported on.

Following the publishing of the article, other individuals and groups in Slovenia (people with experience, professionals, academics, human rights advocates etc.) spoke up publicly, with letters of support and concern about violence that is happening in Slovenian psychiatric institutions.

General director of the Psychiatric Hospital Ljubljana, prof. dr. Bojan Zalar denied any violence against patients existed in the hospital.

In June 2023 the government of Slovenia replaced the five board representatives, in the nine-member board of Ljubljana Psychiatric Hospital. The board with five new members appointed by the government has not met even once in the last four months, and hence has not carried out its’s duties as supervisor of the institution.

The board of the Ljubljana Psychiatric hospital has decided that it fully supports the work of the hospital management and finds no reason for the councillors of the board to resign, nor did they propose the resignation of general director of the hospital. On 19th of October, Government appointed six new members of the board of the institution, which will meet for the first time in early November 2023. In October the Assistant Director of Ljubljana Psychiatric hospital resigned, as she did not agree the management of the hospital.

There is an ongoing criminal investigation into the reports of violence in Psychiatric Hospital Ljubljana, and an inspection, introduced by the Office for Control, Quality and Investments in Healthcare of the Republic of Slovenia (Unkiz – a Slovenian government office) following the publication of the article by N1 (May 2023).

Already in June 2023, the group of signatories and organizations already sent an open letter to all the Slovenian media regarding the violence in Ljubljana Psychiatric Hospital[2], and later a group of survivors, researchers and professionals in the field of mental health, rights of people with disabilities and deinstitutionalization wrote a letter to the Ministry of Labour, Family, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities, Ministry of Health and Ministry of Solidarity-Based Future. Ministry of Labour, Family, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities only responded 2 months after they received the letter, and it took 3 months for the Ministry of Health to respond. None of the three ministries which were addressed promised the changes or prepared a plan to respond to the violence and to prevent it. We are witnessing a great silencing of the testimonies of victims of violence with disabilities, a lack of accountability and a lack serious approach to violence against people with disabilities.

To date there has been:

  • No public information made available about what the investigations discovered.
  • No plan to protect the rights of persons with disabilities, victims of violence published neither by the government or the institution.
  • No public apology to the victims, or acknowledgement of the abuse they have experienced.

In October 2023 N1 again published new testimonies, about violence in the same Psychiatric hospital.[3]

Two students, who worked at the Psychiatric hospital as interns shared their experience for N1:

“I wanted to measure the blood pressure of a lady who had dementia and was uncooperative. She wouldn’t let me do that. I said, OK, we’ll try later. But then this employee came and twisted the lady’s hands behind her back. The lady cried and screamed. He told me to take her blood pressure now. I replied that I don’t want to, because the measurements won’t be right either. He told me that it was obvious that I did not work in psychiatry and that I did not know the methods of work there. His answer surprised me, because in my work in the hospital I also have experience with people who have psychosocial disabilities and who can be aggressive. When working with them, we always try to be respectful and preserve their dignity.”

This statement was made by the intern to superiors already in December 2022. Their report was considered half a year later by the committee for professional supervision. The main task of the committee was to prepare the report on the internal investigation on the allegedly inappropriate behaviour of some employees, based on interviews conducted with employees.  The director changed the members of the committee, just before the deadline for submitting their report. According to the decision of the new committee, it was not possible to confirm inappropriate behaviour by the employee and their employment had been terminated for being continuously late.

The investigation by authorities, and the protection of rights of people with disabilities is urgent. The Slovenian government, as well as other responsible institutions, are now taking too much time to respond to the testimonies of violence in the Psychiatric hospital. We are afraid that this gives the wrong message to the victims of violence, as well as perpetrators and those responsible, that violence against people with disabilities in Slovenia is and will be tolerated.  We are concerned that this abuse, as reported, will continue and that more people with disabilities will be subject to abusive and violent practices in this and other psychiatric institutions.

Therefore, we call on all human rights and disability rights organisations in Europe to:

  • Call the Slovenian government and other responsible institutions to protect rights of people with disabilities, and especially victims of violence in Psychiatric Hospital Ljubljana and present a concrete plan how violence will be addressed and prevented in the future.
  • Call the Slovenian government to speed-up the process of deinstitutionalisation and abolish all coercive practices in mental health services and to respect rights of people with disabilities, since Slovenia adopted CRPD in 2008.
  • Call the Slovenian government to protect rights of people with disabilities that are victims of violence within mental health services and to prevent violence within mental health services also with the proper change of Mental Health Act, which is being amended at the moment. The amendment of Mental Health Act has to respect CRPD.
  • Make a public statement against violence that is ongoing against people with disabilities in Psychiatric Hospital Ljubljana.

 

dr. Sonja Bezjak, Director of Museum of Madness

Monika Bohinec, Faculty for social work, University of Ljubljana

Drago Brumen, Institute RISA, Centre for general, functional and cultural Literacy

Nika Cigoj Kuzma, SVIZCI, user-led NGO, president

Department of Community Mental Health, Faculty of Social Work at University of Ljubljana

Katarina Ficko Mauch, Social Protection Institute of the Republic of Slovenia

Dragica Fojan, Director VDC Koper

Tatjana Knapp, Institute RISA, Centre for general, functional and cultural Literacy

dr. Andraž Kapus, univ. dipl. soc. del., Social Protection Institute of the Republic of Slovenia

mag. Barbara Kobal Tomc, univ.dipl.soc., Director of Social Protection Institute of the Republic of Slovenia

Nika Kovač, anthropologist and political activist

Anja Kutnjak, VDC Koper

Saša Lesjak, Institute RISA, Centre for general, functional and cultural Literacy

Jedrt Maležič, writer and literary translator

PIC – Legal Center for the Protection of Human Rights and the Environment

dr. Andreja Rafaelič, univ. dipl. soc. del., Social Protection Institute of the Republic of Slovenia

Anja Radaljac, comparativist, literary and theatre critic and writer

Simona Ratajc, Coalition for deinstitutionalisation

Andraž Rožman, writer & human rights activist

Boštjan Slatnar, Social Protection Institute of the Republic of Slovenia

Juš Škraban, Faculty for social work, University of Ljubljana

Maruša Tomc Arko, Social Protection Institute of the Republic of Slovenia

Suzana Tratnik, writer, translator and essayist

dr. Mojca Urek, Faculty for social work, University of Ljubljana

Tone Vrhovnik Straka, Poglej! NGO President

Katja Zakrajšek, literary translator

dr. Darja Zaviršek, Faculty for social work, University of Ljubljana

Kaja Zoran, Social Protection Institute of the Republic of Slovenia

 

[1] Article available in Slovene language: https://n1info.si/poglobljeno/kaj-se-dogaja-na-psihiatricni-kliniki-ljubljana-razkrivamo-pricevanja-o-nasilju/  This link offers an English translation https://n1info-si.translate.goog/poglobljeno/kaj-se-dogaja-na-psihiatricni-kliniki-ljubljana-razkrivamo-pricevanja-o-nasilju/?_x_tr_sl=sl&_x_tr_tl=en&_x_tr_hl=en&_x_tr_pto=sc

[2] ‘Testimonies The testimonies shocked us, but they did not surprise us’, letter available in Slovene language:  https://n1info.si/novice/slovenija/pricevanja-so-nas-sokirala-niso-pa-nas-presenetila/

[3] Article available in Slovene language: https://n1info.si/poglobljeno/razkrivamo-nova-pricevanja-o-nasilju-bolnika-z-demenco-veckrat-brcnil-udaril/?fbclid=IwAR1Jjjho_yzbIyOk9PBC3AKwWHYabBpUnXxN0dmFvtnoPBX0D1Cfm62c3V8.