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Extra help for state patients

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“It is also unacceptable that state patients are still being accommodated in prison, often in inhumane conditions

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THE NORTHERN Cape Department of Health (NCDOH) has recruited extra clinicians in an attempt to disperse with nearly 30 state patients who are still receiving forensic observation at prisons in the Province.

This is according to NCDOH, who yesterday responded to claims by the DA stating that the lack of beds at West End Hospital Specialised Hospital “causes state patients to be accommodated in prisons, where they have to sleep on floors and often do not have access to the specialised medical care they require”.

DA provincial leader, Andrew Louw, yesterday said that the party reiterated its call on the MEC for Health, Fufe Makatong, to publicly commit to a plan for the opening and operationalisation of the new mental health hospital in Kimberley.

“Pending the long awaited opening of this facility, which is 12 years overdue, there are several shortcomings in the conditions of care for mental health patients in the Province.

“These challenges were highlighted during an oversight inspection conducted at the West End Hospital in Kimberley. Mental health patients are being hospitalised in this facility until the opening of the mental health hospital, although nobody can, as yet, confirm a date for the opening.

“The staff at the hospital are clearly professionals who are dedicated to their calling and devoted to providing the highest quality of care to patients, but the hospital is burdened by the same lack of resources which has come to characterise the functioning of the Department of Health,” Louw said.

He added that the delivery of medical care was hampered by understaffing, adding that the fact that the hospital was grossly underpar in terms of staffing norms for mental health patients was a grave concern.

“One of the challenges at the hospital is the fact that it still operates its voluntary ward for mental health patients as a mixed gender ward. This concern and its related implications for patient safety was raised on numerous occasions.

“While we know that the staff will not willingly expose patients to risk, it cannot be accepted any longer.

“It is also unacceptable that state patients are still being accommodated in prison, often in inhumane conditions.

“While there are currently more than 70 state patients awaiting care and observation, the West End Hospital only has 36 beds available for state patients.

“The lack of beds causes state patients to be accommodated in prisons, where they have to sleep on floors and often do not have access to the specialised medical care they require.

“Delays with the completion of forensic observations also hamper the delivery of criminal justice, with trials being postponed and families of victims or suspects being exposed to further secondary trauma,” Louw said.

NCDOH spokesperson, Lebogang Majaha, yesterday said that the care, treatment and rehabilitation of mental health care users were continuing “in a very safe and secure environment” at the West End Specialised Hospital (WESH).

“Beyond the dedicated clinical and support services personnel, the department has strived to ensure that mental health care users have adequate security systems both in the form of physical security and a CCTV camera system.

“During May 2017, the department has successfully migrated 21 state patients to a newly refurbished 36-bed ward at the West End Specialised Hospital.

“The current total of nine state patients is as a result of a new cohort that followed after forensic observations.

“These state patients will be integrated as part of the current mental health state patients at WESH, when the new hospital is operationalised with a date to be announced by the MEC for Health in due course.

“The department has established steering committees to facilitate a seamless migration to the new mental health hospital.

“Procurement of the required goods and medical equipment is well underway as part of the preliminary efforts, including the licensing processes as espoused by the Mental Health Care Act,” Majaha said.

He added that, as part of a “dedicated plan” to dispense with the current list of 29 forensic observation cases at the Department of Justice, the department had recruited seven clinicians in Psychiatry, Psychology and Allied Health Professionals.