"Harry Potter" author joins protest at caged beds in Czech hospitals


The Czech mental health services have once again come under fire as some mental hospitals still use caged beds to help staff keep patients under control. Last month, Britain's Sunday Times featured an extensive article criticising such practices that are still used in post-Communist Central Europe. And a few days ago the BBC aired a shocking programme telling the story of a former psychiatric patient, forced to undergo treatment in a caged bed in a hospital in the Moravian city Brno. But only now has the controversial issue of caged-beds hit the Czech headlines, as J.K. Rowling, British author of the popular Harry Potter novels, has joined the protest.

J.K. Rowling, photo: CTK
In personal letters to leading Czech politicians, she urges them to take action. Dita Asiedu will be looking at the topic closer in next Monday's edition of Talking Point. Dita, how have Czech experts reacted to this growing criticism?

"It is too early to say. Most of them have chosen to keep quiet. After it was all over the Czech news, I called numerous hospitals, psychiatrists, people dealing with the issue and not one was willing to make a statement. Off the record, though, they all rejected the criticism and supported the use of caged beds. They say that it is by no means a form of "torture" as J.K. Rowling put it and believe that caged or netted beds are more humane than the alternatives, which are either strapping patients to the beds or sedating them heavily with tranquilisers. But most Czech psychiatrists agree that it isn't a happy practice, and hospitals say that they could do without the caged beds if they were given more resources."

So no one refutes the claim then that we still use caged beds in this country, then?

"That has not been of an issue. There is no doubt that caged beds are still being used in some institutions in the Czech Republic - but the question is how many institutions still use them. Experts do agree, though, that it is no longer a common form of practice in Czech mental institutions."

But it is a fact that the EU, which the Czech Republic acceded to in May, says the caged beds violate human rights. The United Nations and large human rights organisations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have also condemned such practises...

"The official response is that there has been significant improvement and much has been done to reduce the use of caged or netted beds but it's all a matter of time and those places that still use them, have them because of a lack of staff and a lack of money."

As I said earlier, JK Rowling sent letters to Czech President Vaclav Klaus, outgoing Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla, and the Czech Ambassador to Britain Stefan Fuele, urging them to act against caged beds. Has there been any reaction from them?

"As far as I know, there has been none from Prague. Ambassador Fuele said he considered the problem serious and has asked those responsible to deal with it. This could mean that he agrees the practice is unacceptable."

But will the fact that a personality such as J.K. Rowling has joined the campaign help to make a change.

"I think that there has been so much international pressure that even if Czech psychiatrists don't agree with it, they will stop using caged beds to stop the criticism."