'Psychiatric patients relapsing on treatment due to stress from Covid-19'
South Africa’s mental health-care services are seeing more psychiatric patients who are relapsing on treatment due to the stress from the coronavirus pandemic.
The SA Society of Psychiatrists (Sasop) has urged private and public health-care facilities to maintain the availability of beds for psychiatric patients during the pandemic.
Sasop board member, psychiatrist and public sector national convenor Dr Kagisho Maaroganye said that
there was no adequate plan in place to support psychiatric patients during the pandemic.
He added that this was against
the background of psychiatric bed shortages and lack of psychiatric
medication in the district health system to treat, manage or contain those who had relapsed or new patients.
“The twin peaks of an increased rate of Covid-19 among psychiatric patients and increased incidence of relapses and new psychiatric cases is bound to have these two distinct groups of patients arriving at psychiatric facilities at the same time, and possibly in large numbers,” he said.
Maaroganye said that psychiatric patients were more at risk of contracting the virus due to their high levels of co-morbidities among them.
“The lifestyle of those suffering from mental illness increases their risk and the most frequent co-morbidities include diabetes, hypertension, obesity, smoking, and addiction.
“These medical conditions not only escalate the risk of contracting Covid-19 but also the risk of mortality once infected,” he said.
The psychiatrist added that mental health-care services were burdened by crowded living conditions in psychiatric hospitals with shared dining and bathroom spaces.
“Psychiatric patients have for
many years suffered from a minimal allocation of national health-care resources to meet their needs and
now, at a time that they are most vulnerable, they cannot once again be denied the rights afforded to medical and surgical patients for whom such mixing of patients would hardly be considered,” he said.
Sasop urged the Department of Health and private hospital groups not to use psychiatric beds for non-psychiatric Covid-19 patients in their drive to build a stronger hospital bed network due to an already shortage of psychiatric beds.
The professional association
recommended that heads of health establishments, health-care providers, multidisciplinary mental health specialists and informal caregivers should continue to render mental health care services throughout the pandemic.
“In anticipation of more psychiatric patients acquiring Covid-19 and or relapsing from pandemic-associated stress, the capacity to accommodate psychiatric patients during this pandemic should be attended to with urgency and immediately,” the association said.
It also recommended that psychiatric patients who were infected or suspected of being ill with the coronavirus and needed high or intensive care, such as ventilation, must be transferred to a medical facility without delay.
“Any decision to close an acute psychiatric ward should not be
haphazard as this may lead to
creation of a Covid-19 ward which
lies unused,” the association added.