Last week, the Ministry of Health’s draft law entitled “Doctor for All, Equal and Quality Access to the Services of the National Health Services Organization and Primary Health Care and other provisions” was passed.

Within the draft law is a provision, the subject of which is the manner of transfer of persons with mental illness to an appropriate Mental Health Unit, in the process of involuntary hospitalization and upon the order of the public prosecutor. After three decades of a legislative vacuum, one of the main problems of the mental health sector in Greece is being regulated, which concerns the way in which mentally ill persons are transferred to an appropriate Mental Health Unit (e.g. an on-call psychiatric hospital), during the procedure of involuntary hospitalisation and on the basis of a prosecutor’s order.

To date, the transfer of patients has been carried out by the police authorities, without special training. As stated in a statement of the Ministry of Health , “the image of a mentally ill patient in handcuffs inside a police car, as if he were an arrested person, not only does not comply with modern psychiatric principles, but further aggravates the mental health of the patient, exacerbates the stigma and undermines his right to human dignity. The mentally ill patient is no different from other patients, he should not be treated as a prisoner, he is not a criminal. The police will be involved in transport exceptionally and only when their presence is absolutely necessary.”

For years, modernizing transport during involuntary hospitalization has been a key demand of a multitude of patient associations and mental health actors, the statement said. It is added that with the new provision and with a primarily humanitarian aspect, the procedure is assigned to the specialized psychiatric and nursing staff of the Community Mental Health Units and is carried out with specially designed vehicles, under the permanent coordination supervision of the Independent Health Operations Department of the N.C.A.B.

These units, subsidised by the Ministry of Health, are one of the pillars of the psychiatric reform that began in our country 20 years ago. Today, the interconnected Community Units with the Public Health System are called upon to support, with their training and many years of experience in the field of mental health, and the transfer of involuntary hospitalized patients. In 2021, a Memorandum of Cooperation between the Ministry of Health and the Ministries of Civil Protection and Justice was concluded on the issue of the transfer of allegedly mentally ill persons in the process of involuntary hospitalization.

“For the first time in at least 30 years, the government, through a provision in the bill in question, is providing a solution to the major issue of the transfer of mentally ill persons during the process of involuntary hospitalization. The main objective is to protect the rights and dignity of the mentally ill, who should be treated like any patient, not as ‘dangerous’. A mentally ill person is not a prisoner,” stressed Deputy Minister of State for Health, Zoe Rapti, who supported the new regulation in the plenary session of the Parliament.

She added that “Community Mental Health Units will contribute to the substantial improvement of the transport of allegedly mentally ill patients, achieving conditions of safety and dignity. The police authorities will now only exceptionally be involved in the transport”.