42 patients escape from mental hospital in Guangxi

On the evening of July 5th, 42 mental patients escaped from the No. 3 People’s Hospital in Teng county, Wuzhou, Guangxi province. A search was carried out, and all 42 patients were relocated by 7:33 am the following morning. Only yesterday, four days after the last patient was recaptured, was this incident featured in the People’s Daily in a report which bears strong similarities to an article that appeared back on July 8th in Southern Weekly 南方周末. 

This story was first broken on July 7th by the Wuzhou-based Xijiang City News 西江都市报 (see featured image), which reported that none of the escapees had suffered any harm or any other “out of the ordinary” treatment during their punishment. The Teng county Propaganda Department told journalists from this newspaper that several patients first seized a nurse before taking her keys, cellphone and cash. After they opened the door and escaped, other patients followed them. Some patients managed to secure car rides into central Wuzhou, but according to the Xijiang City News, passers-by saw that the patients were acting strangely and alerted members of the 400-strong search team, which was drafted together mostly from the the Wuzhou police forces. The search was concluded when the last patients were found early in the morning on Taiyang Square 太阳广场 in central Wuzhou.

But why did the patients seek to escape? The Southern Weekly took up this question on July 8th. The Guangzhou-based paper secured an interview with No. 3 Hospital’s deputy director Hu Chaoyuan 胡超远. According to Hu, the patients who led the escape were suffering from schizophrenia, and were also predisposed to a violent temperament.

But Hu did not try to pin all of the blame on the patients. He also admitted that one problem was a fragile security system. Chinese health authorities have been aware of this problem since at least July 2012, when the Health Ministry released a new set of guidelines targeted at strengthening security not only at specialist mental health hospitals but also at mental health departments in general hospitals. The guidelines required all hospitals to put together a feasible security plan. Hospitals were also required to employ security personnel, and to install video monitoring equipment and emergency alarm systems in areas where mental health patients are treated. The guidelines also called for all facilities treating mental health patients to draw up contingency plans for dealing with violent patients, or patients who attempted to commit suidice, escape, attack people or damage property.

Hospital authorities in Wuzhou also listed overcrowding and a poor environment as reasons for the July 5th escape. The Beijing News 新京报 reported in 2009 that there are more than 100 million mental health patients in China. Health News 健康报, published by the Health Ministry, announced on World Mental Health Day in 2012 that there are only 1.58 beds in mental health wards per 10,000 citizens in China, compared with a global average of 4.36. According to Kong Lingzhi 孔灵芝, the author of the Health News report, there is also a severe shortage in mental health personnel. At the moment there are only 20,000 doctors and 35,000 nurses specializing in mental healthcare in the whole of China. Kong also said that there has been some investment in improving mental healthcare provision in recent years, but the Wuzhou escape shows that work on improving mental heathcare in China is still a long way from complete.

Links and sources
People’s Daily Online (人民网): 广西藤县42名精神病人脱管细节曝光 医院软硬设施亟需完善
Xijiang City News (西江都市报): 藤县42名精神病人晚上出走
Southern Weekly (南方周末) “飞越疯人院”现实版上演 广西42名精神病人暴力脱管 目前已全部找回
New mental healthcare guidelines published in 2012 by Jiangxi Department of Health (江西卫生厅)(转发卫生部办公厅关于加强精神病医院安全保卫工作的通知)
Beijing News (新京报): 中国各类精神疾病患者逾亿
Health News (健康报): 卫部确定精神卫生日宣传要点

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