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HFHR intervenes in child and adolescent psychiatry cases

The Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights has sent a letter to the Minister of Health in which it expresses concerns regarding recent media reports on the problem of inadequate psychiatric care provided to minors. 

The Foundation also intervened in cases of three incidents that took place at the Professor Tadeusz Bilikiewicz Provincial Psychiatric Hospital in Gdańsk. In a letter addressed to the District Prosecutor, the HFHR asked for information on the proceedings pending in these cases. 

The Foundation emphasised that guaranteeing the right to health care and to decent conditions of medical treatment is a key responsibility of the state.

In recent days, a number of media pieces have described conditions of psychiatric treatment in Poland as failing to meet the needs of minors. The most pressing problems that have been reported include:

  • insufficient funding for specialised paediatric psychiatry wards,
  • placing children in adult wards,
  • adult patients’ violence, including sexual violence, against underage wards’ inmates,
  • excessive workloads of psychiatrists,
  • a significant percentage of Polish children and adolescents struggling with mental issues,
  • further shutdowns of child psychiatry wards.

The Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights has been long involved in addressing various aspects of the right to medical care, including issues related to conditions of treatment. Therefore, we sent a letter to the Minister of Health, in which we pointed to, first and foremost, the international standards for the protection of minors’ health. In the letter, we drew attention to the obligations arising from the European Convention on Human Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). We also noted recommendations of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT).

We emphasised that, according to the ECtHR, the state has the “positive obligation” to introduce specific measures to prevent the deterioration of the physical and mental health of individuals for whom it is particularly responsible. We further pointed out that the state has special obligations towards children, who must be protected from ill-treatment, including from abuse committed by private individuals. In addition to the standards established by the ECtHR, we also referred to the recommendations made by the CPT, which, based on the monitoring of different psychiatric facilities, often pointed out that children and adults should be placed in separate wards.

The Foundation also noted the standards developed under the Convention on the Rights of the Child. We underlined that there was a clear link between the realisation of children’s health rights and their right to an adequate standard of living and protection against all forms of psychological or physical violence. We further pointed out that the Convention required that children must have access to mental health assistance and that such access should be provided in line with the developmental needs of children and especially to children with a difficult life situation (family situation or a stigmatising illness).

The Foundation also sent a letter to the Circuit Prosecutor’s Office in Gdańsk, requesting information on the proceedings launched to investigate the incidents that took place at the Professor Tadeusz Bilikiewicz Provincial Psychiatric Hospital in Gdańsk.


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