R10m for PE mental unit

Eastern Cape Health MEC Dr Phumza Dyantyi Picture: Supplied
Eastern Cape Health MEC Dr Phumza Dyantyi
Picture: Supplied

Acute facility to be set up at Provincial Hospital after psychiatric patient deaths at Livingstone

Following the death of six psychiatric patients in as many months at Livingstone Hospital’s casualty unit, more than R10-million has been set aside to establish an acute mental unit at Port Elizabeth’s Provincial Hospital.

Yesterday, Eastern Cape Health MEC Pumza Dyantyi admitted to the deaths at a national health portfolio committee meeting.

After a schizophrenic patient hanged himself in the Livingstone casualty unit on Sunday morning, a temporary ward – where psychiatric patients were isolated and properly sedated – was set up.

This followed statements by labour unions at the hospital, who said on Friday that the hospital’s casualty unit was no longer safe as they had to care for psychiatric patients who were without beds and the correct medication.

Doctors and the National Directorate of Mental Health and Substance Abuse have been campaigning for years for a proper mental health unit to be established at Livingstone, but the provincial health department has, up to now, refused to do so.

Dyantyi said yesterday the province had a shortage of 1 600 beds for psychiatric patients and had seen a “radical” increase in substance abuse over the past few years, adding to the problem.

She said this was particularly true in the Nelson Mandela Bay metro, where there was a shortage of 141 beds for patients with acute mental health symptoms or drug addictions.

Describing “adverse events” caused by the shortage of beds, Dyantyi said six mentally ill patients had died at the accident and emergency unit at Livingstone.

The Eastern Cape has just two treatment centres for drug rehabilitation – 20 beds for adults at Fort England and 20 beds for adolescents at the Ernest Malgas Centre in New Brighton.

She said the main challenge they had was to find proper facilities in which to establish mental health units.

An infrastructure team from the provincial health department visited Provincial Hospital on Monday.

Provincial health spokesman Sizwe Kupelo said it was decided to open a ward, with between 30 and 32 beds, for acutely ill mental patients in the existing cardiac ward.

Cardiac patients would be moved elsewhere in the hospital.

He said the unit would be staffed by 10 specialist psychiatric nurses, six staff nurses and eight nursing assistants working in shifts.

One psychiatrist, a clinical psychologist, a social worker and an occupational therapist would also attend to patients.

“The estimated annual staffing cost is R10-million, excluding the other running costs such as medicine and food,” Kupelo said.

He said the intention was to increase the beds to between 70 and 100, using space at Provincial Hospital such as that formerly occupied by the oncology unit.

“Patients will first have to go to an accident and emergency unit at either Livingstone Hospital or Dora Nginza Hospital, and will then be sent to Provincial Hospital while they wait for a bed at either the Elizabeth Donkin Hospital or Dora Nginza Hospital,” he said.

DA health spokeswoman Celeste Barker said Dyantyi should expedite work on the acute mental health unit at Provincial Hospital.

“We will exercise regular oversight and keep the province up to date,” she said.

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