Plans to clear mental health patients backlog

Friday, August 24, 2018

Health Minister, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, says his department will soon issue a contract under the National Health Insurance (NHI) to clear the backlog of mental health patients awaiting treatment.

“We will be issuing a contract under NHI projects because NHI is not yet a law but it has got projects to hire 51 psychiatrists in the private sector and 72 psychologists to go and clear the backlog so that our mental health institutions can go on admitting real mentally ill patients, not criminals who want to hide behind the issue of mental health,” he said.

The Minister said the backlog in the mental healthcare sector was partly caused by abuse of lawyers who were defending criminals and referring them for mental health assessments.

This, he said, took up space for patients with genuine mental illness.

"We have 1 400 criminals languishing in mental health institutions‚ waiting to be assessed. Many of them are taking up space in mental health institutions. Some of them used mental health as a tactic for their legal battles, he said.

In addition to the strain caused by disingenuous cases, Motsoaledi said there is a shortage of psychiatrists in the public health system.

"There are currently 700 psychiatrists in the country, with 75% of them in the private sector," said the Minister.

Motsoaledi made these remarks at the Office of Health Standards Compliance on Thursday, where Health Ombudsman Malegapuru Makgoba released a report into allegations of patient mismanagement at the Tower Psychiatric Hospital and Psychological Rehabilitation Centre in the Eastern Cape.

Tower psychiatric, no Life Esidimeni

 Tower Psychiatric Hospital (TPHPRC) was accused of violating patient’s rights by psychiatrist, Dr Kiran Sukeri, who laid a complaint with the provincial Health Department.

In his report, Makgoba found that Sukeri, “exaggerated” and released damaging death statistics to the public, resulting in the hospital being dubbed another ”Life Esidimeni saga”.

Life Esidimeni, was a marathon project instituted in 2016 by former Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu, who ordered that mental healthcare users, who were based at the Life Esidimeni healthcare facility, be moved to cut costs.

The swift removal of patients without due process resulted in the deaths of 144 mental health patients.

In his complaint, Sukeri alleged that 90 patients died at the psychiatric hospital in a similar fashion to Life Esidimeni victims.

“Over an 8-year period, 68 mental health care users had died at TPHPRC and not the falsified and exaggerated total of 90 deaths as reported in the media with Dr Sukeri’s collaboration.

“This must be compared with a final total of 144 deaths recorded at Life Esidimeni over a period of one year during the ‘Marathon Project’ Robertson & Makgoba 2018,” said Makgoba.

The Health Ombud said the Life Esidimeni comparison was “factually inaccurate” and “far from the truth”.

“This incidence at TPHPRC was no Life Esidimeni,” said Makgoba.   

He recommended disciplinary proceedings be instituted against the psychiatrist for his false claims

Makgoba said while TPHPRC was no Life Esidimeni, the complaints by Sukeri pointed to more systemic challenges faced in the care of mental health patients.

He recommended that the Minister appoint an administrator within 90 working days to oversee mental health services in the Eastern Cape Health Department. –