The Eastern Cape Department of Health scrambled to implement an emergency plan at Livingstone Hospital’s accident and emergency unit yesterday after a patient hanged himself in the early hours.
The Gelvandale man was a known schizophrenic and his death occurred shortly after labour unions at the hospital had raised the alarm, saying that neither staff nor patients were safe at the unit.
The hospital does not have a psychiatric unit, but patients have to wait there until they can get a bed at Dora Nginza Hospital.
Police spokesman Warrant Officer Alwin Labans said police had been called to the hospital just after 5.30am yesterday and an inquest docket had been opened.
A spokeswoman for three labour unions whose members work in the accident and emergency unit said on Friday there were more than 20 psychiatric patients running around unmanaged and posing a risk to others at the hospital.
Last week, a nurse and a security guard were attacked by psychiatric patients.
Provincial health spokesman Sizwe Kupelo said they had implemented an emergency plan yesterday.
“The patient [who hanged himself] was a psychiatric patient,” he said.
“He was one of eight acutely ill mental patients who were held at the casualty unit [on Saturday night] while waiting for beds at Dora Nginza Hospital.
“He was last seen at 4.10am when he went to the toilet. His body was found later.”
Kupelo said eight dedicated nurses had been sent to the unit yesterday and a psychiatrist would also attend to psychiatric patients every second day from today.
“We have deployed extra security personnel in the area,” he said.
“A ward in Provincial Hospital has been identified for an acute psychiatric unit but it will have to be renovated first.
“An infrastructure team from Bhisho is expected in Port Elizabeth today to develop further plans.”
Unions at the hospital have called for a meeting at 9am today.
The DA’s Celeste Barker called for an urgent oversight visit to the hospital by the health portfolio committee.