Experts deplore dire state of Eastern Cape's Tower Psychiatric Hospital

2018-03-22 21:24
The general ward at Tower Psychiatric Hospital (Supplied, Sizwe Kupelo)

The general ward at Tower Psychiatric Hospital (Supplied, Sizwe Kupelo)

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Port Elizabeth – The abuse of mentally ill patients' rights, a failure to provide care in line with the Constitution, missing death records as well as a failure by management to address systemic challenges are among the findings made during a visit into Tower Psychiatric Hospital in Fort Beaufort in the Eastern Cape.

These were observed by members of the South African Society of Psychiatry (Sasop) who visited the hospital following complaints by a psychiatrist at the hospital, and the emergence of the fact that there were problems with patient death records.

In what could potentially be a ticking time bomb, Sasop revealed failures attributed to the provincial health department in its care of mentally ill patients, this time in the Eastern Cape.

READ: Visit to Eastern Cape psychiatric hospital gives a 'very different picture' from reports – department

Among its findings, Sasop president Bernard Janse van Rensburg said, were that problems at the hospital had existed for a long time.

He urged the health department in the province to immediately investigate the situation at the psychiatric hospital and the entire mental healthcare system in the Eastern Cape.

Van Rensburg said the 400–bed hospital had been utilised for many years as a non-voluntary, inpatient facility for patients with serious mental conditions requiring long-term care for people from across the province.

Staff shortages

However, there had been no development in the province to facilitate the implementation of the appropriate deinstitutionalisation of patients to be treated in a less restrictive community-based environment close to their homes.

"To make matters worse the staff shortages of only two medical offices on the floor at Tower Hospital is further infringing on the physical health of patients."

Van Rensburg identified that "significant" discrepancies and inaccuracies exist about the hospital's available information on the number and nature of deaths of inpatients that had occurred over the last five to eight years. 

"This has led to important records not being recorded or stored properly and reported instances where recording of information relating to deaths or patient care has been done retrospectively instead of at the point of occurrence.

"It is unclear whether this was done as an attempt to give an impression of lower death rates or better care. What is clearer is the fact that the system of record-keeping and storing of important records has not been done effectively over many years and has left the care of patients at risk," he said.

Eastern Cape's ticking psychiatric time bomb

Government is facing yet another ticking bomb involving psychiatric patients in an Eastern Cape psychiatric hospital. Dr Kiran Sukeri, a psychiatrist at the Tower Psychiatric Hospital in Fort Beaufort said he could no longer "remain silent" about the treatment of patients at the institution.

"In addition, the institution and health professionals who work there are now also vulnerable to litigation," Van Rensburg warned.

Sasop found that the state of the hospital's seclusion rooms posed a risk, recommending that the use of these spaces to seclude patients should be stopped immediately.

Van Rensburg added that the seclusion rooms were positioned in the courtyard of the hospital, far away from the nurses' station or other point of observation by staff, with no amenities available. 

Eastern Cape health spokesperson Sizwe Kupelo said that an independent investigator had been appointed to look into conditions at the hospital.

He would not be drawn into commenting on Sasop's findings.

"We don't know the intention of this statement because it is already public knowledge that Tower Hospital is being investigated," Kupelo said. 

Read more on:    port elizabeth  |  service delivery  |  healthcare

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