Dire shortage of psychiatrists for EC mental health patients

No permanent psychiatrists for three of seven state mental health facilities

A solitary confinement cell at Tower Hospital in Fort Beaufort
A solitary confinement cell at Tower Hospital in Fort Beaufort
Image: Supplied

Three of the seven state mental health facilities housing 1‚280 patients in the Eastern Cape do not have permanent psychiatrists.

Eastern Cape health MEC Helen Sauls-August provided details about psychiatrists in a written reply to questions by DA MPL Celeste Barker.

Barker‚ in a statement on Friday‚ cautioned Health Ombudsman Professor Malegapuru Makgoba not to be “deceived by pretty window dressing” at ailing health facilities in the province.

Makgoba arrived in East London on Monday to investigate allegations of mismanagement and maltreatment of psychiatric patients at Tower Hospital in Fort Beaufort.

Dr Kiran Sukeri sent a damning report to Makgoba and the Eastern Cape health department‚ before he resigned from the hospital‚ alleging that resources were misused‚ patients and staff were left hungry and that a group of psychiatric patients had been housed in solitary confinement without a doctor to monitor their health.

Barker alleged on Friday that “shocking revelations of the systemic failure and inadequacy” at state mental health facilities were contained in the reply to her questions by Sauls-August. Vacant posts for psychiatrists had not been filled‚ she said.

• At Elizabeth Donkin Hospital one psychiatrist post was filled out of eight posts. Seven doctors either resigned or were transferred. There were 145 patients.
• At Tower Hospital there was no psychiatrist‚ following the resignation of Sukeri on March 31. There are 321 patients.
• At Komani Hospital one psychiatrist post was filled‚ the other had been vacant since March 2014. There are 410 patients.
• At Fort England Hospital five out of six psychiatrist posts were filled and one psychiatrist was doing sessional duty. There are 298 patients.
• At Dora Nginza Mbulawa Mental Health Unit one psychiatrist was employed in an acting capacity since February 2018‚ out of four posts. There are 35 patients.
• At Mthatha Mental Health Unit none of three posts was filled. Two of them had been vacant since 2015. There are 12 patients.
• At East London Mental Health Unit none out of three psychiatrist posts was filled. There are 30 patients.

“Patients with mental health issues cannot simply be locked away and left without proper‚ professional care. Many of these patients do not have the capacity to look after themselves and rely on us to ensure that they are treated with dignity and respect‚” said Barker.

“We can never allow for a situation where parts of our mental health facilities are reminders of Victorian-era torture chambers‚ for example‚ the solitary cells I found during a visit to Tower Hospital in March this year.

"According to the reply by the MEC‚ these cells date back to 1894 and were last refurbished in 1982. Parts of Fort England Hospital date back to 1875‚” she added.

Sauls-August welcomed the investigation by Makgoba at Tower Hospital.

“The department fully supports the investigation and will co-operate with it‚” she said in a statement on Wednesday.

“This investigation is important for to the functioning‚ management of healthcare facilities‚ particularly those that provide healthcare services to the vulnerable groups. It is important that this investigation is done by an independent‚ competent person‚” she said.

“We are committed to implementing all findings of the Ombudsman‚” she added.

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