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Durban - A schizophrenic patient requiring urgent medical attention was allegedly locked in a windowless room at Durban’s Addington Hospital, without toilet facilities or food for 13 hours.
When doctors and nurses eventually tried to access the patient, they could not because a security guard had allegedly disappeared with the only key to the room.
The 34-year-old man’s caregiver, Barry Brian Bolter, is now demanding answers from the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Health.
The department’s head, Dr Sibongile Zungu, said: “I have not heard of this incident, but these are serious allegations and I will be looking in to it today.
“Patients seeking medical assistance, especially those who are mentally ill, should be given urgent attention.”
Mary de Haas, a member of the medical ethics committee, said she was calling for a full investigation into the claim.
She said this was the last straw in the latest saga to plague Addington Hospital.
Bolter said the man, who cannot be named, had been diagnosed with schizophrenia 13 years ago. He said the man was treated for his illness as an outpatient at the hospital’s psychiatric clinic.
Bolter said their troubles had begun a few weeks ago when the man returned from his appointment at Addington without medication. “He said the queue was so long that he did not reach the front before the pharmacy closed.
“He returned to collect his medication on three other occasions, but was unsuccessful.”
Bolter said that in recent weeks, the man had begun to exhibit acute symptoms of mental illness, which were extreme and debilitating. Despite taking him to a private doctor, the man’s condition had deteriorated.
“He began screaming obscenities, smashing his room and burning all of his possessions. I called the police and they assisted to take him to Addington Hospital.”
Bolter said the man had been immediately locked in Room 2 in the trauma unit. The room was small with no windows, toilet facilities or seating.
Bolter said a blood sample had been taken by a doctor and sent for analysis. He had been told the patient would only be treated by the doctor once the results of the test had returned. “I was told to go home and return the next day at 6am.”
He said he had called the hospital at 7am and was told no information would be given over the phone. When he arrived at the hospital, he claimed he had been told to wait in a queue.
“I was then told the blood results had arrived, but that the psychiatrist on call would not be attending to the patient. The psychiatrist from the psychiatric ward was going to see him.
“I went to the ward and was told by the nurse on duty that they were not willing to accept the patient and he would have to remain in trauma,” he said.
“I explained to her that a significant amount of time had elapsed since he had been admitted and that the patient was being housed in a temporary holding facility without even the most basic amenities. But, she was unmoved.”
He said that two hours later he had tried to lodge a complaint with the hospital management.
The call had gone unanswered, Bolter said.
“I then phoned the psychiatric ward and explained the treatment of the patient was becoming a serious human rights issue. No one cared.”
In desperation, Bolter said, he had contacted Vanessa Burger of the Umbilo Action Group. She had called the head of psychiatry, a Dr Ramdilal.
“I was unaware of her intervention and decided that the situation warranted protest action. I entered the trauma unit and very loudly berated all staff and doctors for ignoring a gross violation of human rights which was occurring before their eyes,” he said.
He said that by the time a doctor arrived to treat the patient, 12 hours had lapsed since he had been locked in the room.
“I then enquired why the patient had not been taken to the toilet and the doctor instructed that he be released from Room 2.”
He said it had emerged that the only key for the room was held by a security guard, who was absent from his post without permission. “He eventually returned with the key and released the patient – 13 hours after he had arrived in trauma.”
Bolter said staff had a heightened duty of care when dealing with a restrained patient, but had failed to provide this.
“The conditions in which the patient was held would not be suitable for a prisoner or a zoo animal,” Bolter said. “And the fact that a single key is held by a security guard is hazardous and cannot comply with fire and safety regulations.”
Biomedical ethicist Poonita Naidoo said this was in contravention of the Mental Health Act and a serious violation of the patient’s human rights.