‘No money for medicines’ shock

Patients’ anti-depressant, anti-anxiety drugs cut – but department denies shortage

State patients needing anti-anxiety drugs or anti-depressants are being turned away from Provincial Hospital’s outpatient clinic and told by the nurses to buy their own drugs or that they do not need pills to stop an anxiety attack.

“I have lost so much weight that I now fit in a size 30 dress,” Cilla Uys, 67, said.

She developed an anxiety disorder after her husband was murdered. “I need my pills.”

Petro Wessels said: “They told me to drink less coffee and exercise more.”

Shelly Strimling, 50, was given a prescription for her anti-depressants on Thursday and told to go and buy the pills herself at the pharmacy. They cost R485.

“There are many others like me,” she said. “I am collecting letters of complaint to take to the Department of Health.”

Strimling has been a state patient for eight months.

When she went to collect her pills at the end of last month, she was only given a 14-day supply.

“They said there would be no more medication for me after that as the state did not have money,” she said.

“You can imagine my shock, knowing that I cannot cope emotionally without these tablets.

“Before having this medication, I was basically in bed for two years with severe depression.

“I asked the sisters at the front desk what I was to do now.

“They said there was nothing that could be done and that there were many patients in the same boat.

“They said the pharmacist at Elizabeth Donkin had cut many patients’ medication because there were no funds.

“I asked [for] advice as to what could be done and they said they had fought as hard as they could and nothing was going to make a difference – the best was just to go to a private doctor and pay for the medication myself.

“As if it is easy to find R500-plus to get your medication.”

After complaining about the situation on Thursday, Strimling was given a script for her medicine, without seeing a doctor, and told to buy it at the pharmacy.

“I was told there would a meeting about this on May 10,” she said.

Uys said her anti-anxiety pills allowed her to live a normal life.

“Over the past two months my prescribed medication was drastically reduced to nothing,” she said.

“Inquiries to various department heads produced different answers.

“I feel helpless and can no longer live a normal life. I cannot afford the R500 a month to pay for the pills through a pharmacy.

“First they took away my daytime pill and then my night-time pill.

“They said they are weaning everybody off these drugs. “They say I am highly-strung. “I am 67. I was 38 when my husband was murdered. I have had panic attacks since then.”

Wessels, who was diagnosed with depression, a sleeping disorder and an anxiety disorder, said she was prescribed medication for the morning and the evening.

“First they took my morning pills away, then the one for the evening.

“They just said they had instructions from Elizabeth Donkin Hospital to stop our pills,” she said.

“I never saw a doctor once. I am at my wits’ end. My health is deteriorating fast.”

Health spokesman Sizwe Kupelo said: “There is no shortage of medicine in the province.

“I would advise patients to lodge a formal complaint with the department so the matter can be investigated.

“We would need the prescriptions so we can study the instructions.”

Port Elizabeth Mental Health’s Merle Blunden said it would be catastrophic to indiscriminately reduce or stop medication to those who were responding well to their prescribed anti-depressants or antianxiety medication.

“As an organisation advocating for care in the community, we would be very shocked if the Department of Health has implemented a system of drastically reducing and stopping medication to those suffering from chronic depression or anxiety.

“A decision to reduce or stop antidepressants or anti-anxiety meds should always be done thoughtfully and in consultation with the treating psychiatrist or therapist.

“Going off medication like this would prematurely and vastly increase the risk of relapse,” she said.

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