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Phuket Opinion: Civil liberty vs welfare

Phuket Opinion: Civil liberty vs welfare

PHUKET: It is to be hoped that all will end well soon for the lost and confused Hungarian tourist, 73-year-old Farkas Gyula, with his return to his family in Switzerland next week.


By Jody Houton

Friday 31 January 2014, 03:20PM


After he was found disori­ented in Kamala on January 11, it was quickly ascertained that Mr Gyula was suffering from some form of debilitat­ing mental condition, possibly Alzheimer’s, and he was put in a hotel in Kamala.

But he checked out four days later and ended up being given a bed instead at the Tour­ist Police HQ in Phuket Town.

As he had not committed any crime, Mr Gyula was free to come and go as he pleased. Which is exactly what he did.

When our reporter chanced upon Mr Gyula earlier this week, he was lying slumped on the roadside outside the Vachira Phuket Hospital, barefoot and with badly swollen ankles. She called the Tourist Police and they came to pick him up.

Apparently, for the last two weeks, the old chap had walked back and forth between Vachira Hospital and the Tourist Police, not to seek medical aid, but to beg for food.

Whether the Thai police should – or even could – have done more is a question for another day. It is unlikely any­one in that office is qualified to care for someone suffering from senile dementia.

BRITISH INTERNATIONAL SCHOOL, PHUKET

However, this case illu­minates what happens to for­eigners who fall through the cracks between the range of consular services provided by a citizen’s consulate, and Thai state welfare.

It later transpired that a similar situation had occurred involving Mr Gyula in 2012. Luckily, back then, the plane ticket to send him home was covered by his personal health insurance.

A compulsory emergency health care plan for visitors has featured heavily in the news recently, when it emerged that foreigners without health insur­ance cost the country billions of baht every year for medical treatment.

It now seems unlikely that plan will come to fruition and in any case, there is a question of whether mental health issues would come under the umbrella of emergency treatment.

But what is certain is that Mr Gyula should not have been left to roam the streets of Phuket Town, barefoot and confused. Someone, whether police, hospital staff or family, should have taken responsibility for his welfare.

And one also has to ask, how did he come to board an aircraft to Thailand, unac­companied, in the first place?

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