Deputy Minister of Health Dr Joe Phaahla, left, Minister of Health Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, Health Ombudsman Professor Malegapuru Makgoba, acting board chairperson of the Office of Health Standards Compliance Oaitse Montshiwa and chief executive Dr Siphiwe Mndaweni address the media on the Tower Hospital report. Picture: Thobile Mathonsi/African News Agency (ANA)
Deputy Minister of Health Dr Joe Phaahla, left, Minister of Health Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, Health Ombudsman Professor Malegapuru Makgoba, acting board chairperson of the Office of Health Standards Compliance Oaitse Montshiwa and chief executive Dr Siphiwe Mndaweni address the media on the Tower Hospital report. Picture: Thobile Mathonsi/African News Agency (ANA)

Govt wants mental wards at hospitals

By GOITSEMANG TLHABYE Time of article published Aug 24, 2018

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HOSPITALS around the country may soon be forced to have a mental health ward, Health Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi said yesterday.

He and other global health professionals said they had taken note of a clear explosion of mental health issues occurring globally, and South Africa was no exception.

Motsoaledi said the phenomenon was worrying, and he and other leaders who attended the International Aids Society in Amsterdam last month were working towards having the UN to prioritise mental health sooner rather than later.

Motsoaledi said this phenomenon had reared its ugly head in the criminal justice system, where lawyers were defending criminals and referring them for mental health assessments.

“As we speak, there are 1400 criminals languishing in mental health facilities awaiting their assessments, even though some might just be criminals.”

This had, according to Motsoaledi, created a backlog in the health sector as the country had very few psychiatrists. In fact, figures showed that there were only 700 psychiatrists, with 25% in the public sector.

To deal with the backlog, he said they would in a few months be issuing a contract under the National Health Insurance programme to hire 51 psychiatrists and psychologists from the private sector to clear up the backlog.

“We are looking into the possibility of ensuring every hospital in the country has a mental health ward to deal with this scary phenomenon.

“We have also noticed high rates of depression affecting medical health students.

“So much so that a student group had requested to meet me to deal with the problem.”

Mental health issues were highlighted once again by Motsoaledi following receipt of Health Ombudsman Professor Malegapuru Makgoba’s report looking into allegations of patient mismanagement and violations at the Tower Psychiatric Hospital and Psychosocial Rehabilitation Centre.

During handover of the report to the minister, Makgoba said media reports on gross human rights violations taking place at the centre as alleged by head of psychiatry at the centre, Dr Kiran Sukeri, were false. He was speaking at the Office of the Health Standards Compliance in Pretoria yesterday.

The investigations and subsequent report by the ombud were sparked by media reports, which surfaced on March 4, alleging gross human rights violations were taking place at the centre in Fort Beaufort, Eastern Cape.

An orchestra sounded off following the revelations, Makgoba said, creating the impression that the country was about to witness another Life Esidimeni on its hands.

Of his findings, Makgoba, said he found no prima facie evidence of institutionalised, systematic or deliberate violations of human rights by staff at the hospital.

He added that all stakeholders were of the view that there were no other degrading and inhumane treatments observed or found as alleged by Sukeri.

News reports and allegations by Sukeri that there had been 90 deaths at the centre were also found to have been false.

“Over an eight-year period, 68 mental health patients died at the hospital, and not the falsified and exaggerated total of 90 deaths as reported in the media with Sukeri’s collaboration.”

Makgoba recommended that, as Sukeri had conceded his fault, he should be reported to the Health Professions Council of SA to consider his suspension from any practice and for disciplinary proceedings to be instituted against him.

He also wants him charged with gross misconduct and incompetence and to write a public and unconditional apology to the nation and his peers in psychiatry.

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