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6.5 million South Africans need care for mental disorders

Deputy Health Minister Dr Joe Phaahla. Picture: ANA Reporter

Deputy Health Minister Dr Joe Phaahla. Picture: ANA Reporter

Published Jun 30, 2022


Cape Town - Health Minister Joe Phaahla has revealed that about 6.5 million people need care for common mental disorders in South Africa.

Phaahla also said there were only 19 000 beds in both public and private health facilities for psychiatric patients.

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The minister revealed this when responding to parliamentary questions from DA MP Michéle Clarke, who asked about the number of psychiatric patients in need of care and the number of beds available in the public and private sectors.

Clarke wanted to know about the number of psychiatric specialists in the public sector as well as the vacancy rate.

In his written reply, Phaahla said it was estimated that 6 566 703 people need care for common mental disorders.

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He said a total of 1 292 991 of those, aged 15 years and older, needed care for severe psychiatric conditions. However, Phaahla said there were only 19 752 beds for psychiatric patients in the entire country.

“There are 14 060 beds in the public sector and 5 692 in the private sector,” he said.

His replies painted a picture of massive shortages of psychiatric specialists in the public health services.

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The public sector in the nine provinces has filled 451 positions of psychologists. A total of 187 posts remained unfilled, making the vacancy rate 29.31%.

Phaahla’s reply showed only three provinces have employed “quite a number of professionals”.

The Western Cape is leading in hiring most psychologists at 99, followed by North West with 41 and KwaZulu-Natal 35. The rest of the provinces collectively hired just 17 psychologists.

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Limpopo has six psychologists, the Free State four, Mpumalanga three and both the Eastern Cape and Northern Cape, two.

The total 187 vacancies are collectively shared between eight provinces with the exception of the Western Cape, which accounts for a single vacant post.

The Eastern Cape, Limpopo and Mpumalanga have the highest vacancy rate at 83.33%, 82.86% and 80% respectively.

The Northern Cape’s vacancy rate stands at 66.67%, the Free State 50%, KwaZulu-Natal 28.57%, North West 12.77% and the Western Cape 1%.

The statistics show the Eastern Cape has a shocking ratio of one psychiatric specialists to 3 338 295 population, followed by Mpumalanga at one psychiatrist to a population of 1 581 194.

The Western Cape has the lowest current ratio of psychiatric specialist to population at one to 71 856.

Gauteng does not feature in statistics as its figures are not provided.

Clarke noted “with concern” that the country has a massive shortage of psychologists and psychiatrists in the public health sector.

“While the Western Cape has only one vacancy for a psychologist and a psychiatrist/population ratio of 1:71 856, other provinces are really struggling,” she said.

Clarke said South Africans deserved better care from the Department of Health.

“The DA will submit follow-up parliamentary questions regarding the incredible vacancy rate. We will also request the department’s urgent appearance before the parliamentary portfolio committee on health regarding their plans for intervention,” she said.

Clarke said it was hardly surprising that South Africa was facing a mental health crisis, with the country’s economy in tatters, unemployment lines growing daily and severe systemic failures in almost all public sectors and state-owned enterprises.

Cape Times