Mental patients run wild

2009-02-16 00:00

Doctors and nurses at Northdale Hospital are working in fear of psychiatric patients who prowl the hospital corridors half naked, breaking ward doors and terrorising staff and other patients.

Traumatised staff and patients have told The Witness that mental patients are not restricted to their ward, but have free access to other wards.

Recently, a female doctor was attacked by a psychiatric patient who also made sexual advances to pregnant women in the maternity ward.

According to witnesses, the doctor was doing routine checks on patients when the man entered the ward and grabbed her.

“The man stormed into the ward, broke down doors and attacked the doctor and female patients.” The docmanaged to free herself after a scuffle.

A nurse who spoke on condition of anonymity said patients ran in all directions. “He was only wearing the hospital gown and his manhood was dangling in the open. Everybody was scared. Patients ran for safety. It was like a nightmare.”

While the man was chasing the patients, nurses called security guards, but the man had left the ward by the time a guard arrived.

According to staff, mental patients roam the hospital day and night unsupervised. They said patients can go anywhere at any time. “They even walk across the road to shops.”

Staff criticised the guards for failing to respond promptly. “By the time the guard arrives in the ward, the damage would have been done. They take too long to respond, and we don’t feel safe,” said one of the nurses.

Staff said the Health Department have ignored their concerns regarding mental patients at the hospital. Previously, staff members accused management of failing to adhere to regulations.

They said the law states that mental patients can be kept up to 72 hours at the hospital, but authorities often ignore that rule.

A nurse said caring for mental patients requires specialised skills. “We don’t have specialised personnel to deal with mental patients, but we always have them and they are kept beyond the stipulated period.”

In 2007 a mental patient attacked a nurse and patients, making sexual advances in a post-natal ward. A traumatised nurse had to take special leave following the incident, and a 16-year-old patient checked out of the hospital leaving her baby behind because she was terrified after seeing a mental patient making sexual advances towards others in the maternity ward.

In another incident, a 23-year-old mental patient was found hanged in a hospital bathroom early last year.

In August 2008, a mental patient set fire to his mattress.

KZN Health Department spokesman Leon Mbangwa had failed by the close of business yesterday to respond to questions sent to him on Friday last week.

sandilez@witness.co.za

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