The Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) has issued a public statement strongly criticising the persistent failure of the Bulgarian authorities to address grave problems in social care institutions and psychiatric hospitals. It also urges them to take urgent action to improve the situation and to radically change the approach to the provision of mental health care and institutional social care (see the Bulgarian version of the public statement).
Since 1995, during 14 visits to Bulgaria, the CPT delegations have visited 10 out of 12 state psychiatric hospitals and 16 social care institutions for persons with psychiatric disorders and learning disabilities. For more than 25 years now, the CPT has consistently expressed its deep concern regarding the treatment, conditions, and legal safeguards offered to social care residents and patients with psychiatric disorders. However, the latest visits in 2017, 2020 and 2021, as well as the responses of the Bulgarian authorities where the CPT’s key concerns were largely downplayed, demonstrated that little or no progress has been achieved.
The phenomenon of physical ill-treatment of social care residents and patients with psychiatric disorders by staff has been a matter of long-standing concern for the Committee. Visit after visit, CPT delegations have recorded complaints about persons having been slapped, punched, kicked, and/or hit with sticks by the staff in social care homes and psychiatric hospitals. Indeed, it almost seemed that sticks had become “standard items of equipment” for staff in many institutions, with them often being discovered in staff offices. Despite raising the issue of deliberate physical ill-treatment on numerous occasions, the Committee must conclude that the Bulgarian authorities have not taken necessary measures to eradicate this totally unacceptable practice.
The Committee has also repeatedly criticised an appalling level of hygiene in some social care homes, only to find, during its most recent visit to Bulgaria, yet another social care institution with hygiene conditions so bad that, when combined with utterly neglectful care, they could only be described as inhuman and degrading. Despite reiterated recommendations, persons with psychiatric disorders and learning disabilities in such homes can still be found abandoned in dirty dormitories, on dirty beds, surrounded by an all-pervading nauseating stench of urine and covered in flies crawling over them.