Mentally ill patients in bid to stop move to children's facility

2016-03-15 09:05


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Johannesburg - Fifty-four mentally ill patients will find out on Tuesday whether an urgent court application to stop the Department of Health from moving them out of a hospital they have called home for several years will succeed or not.

The SA Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag), the SA Federation for Mental Health, and the SA Society for Psychiatrists jointly brought the urgent application before the High Court in Johannesburg on Monday.

"The reason why we did an urgent interdict and why it was so urgent to file [was because]...on Friday afternoon, we received proof that 54 patients had been earmarked to move to a facility called Takalani today," Sadag director Cassey Chambers told News24 on Monday evening.

The organisations were mainly concerned with the fact that adult patients with profound clinical and mental disabilities, including cerebral palsy and schizophrenia, were going to be moved to an NGO which was primarily a children's facility, she said.

All three organisations were worried not only about the 54 patients who were meant to have been moved on Monday, but also about those already living at the Takalani Home for the Mentally Handicapped in Diepkloof, Soweto.


"It's very concerning, these are patients that need very specialised treatment and care. [It is also about] protecting the rights of the patients that are currently at that facility, so because we knew that the patients were being moved today, we had to file an urgent interdict."

Chambers said the organisation and the families of the patients had been in talks with the Gauteng Department of Health for months over the matter.

This was after a settlement agreement was reached in December last year to terminate the department's contract with the Life Esidimeni Hospital group, which served more than 2 000 patients, Chambers said. These patients were aged between 24 and 101.

The hospital, which is based in Randfontein, on the West Rand, provides in-patient care, treatment, and rehabilitation for people with chronic psychiatric disorders and severe intellectual disabilities.

- Health24: Mental Health

"We've been in engagements and negotiations with the department since the beginning of the year, as per our settlement agreement. And through the many engagements, we've become increasingly concerned by certain aspects of the process," Chambers said on Monday.

Some of their worries included the fact that the department had not yet completed its assessment of the NGOs it intended sending all the patients to.

This report would only be due by the end of March, Chambers said.

She said the patients were yet to be profiled and their families yet to be consulted on whether they were capable of taking them in or not.

Integrate back into communities

In October last year, Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu said the main reason for terminating the contract was to reduce the number of psychiatric patients at facilities by discharging those responding well to treatment and integrating them back into their communities. These patients would then be afforded treatment at home.

On Monday, department spokesperson Steve Mabona told News24 that it was not Sadag or any other organisation's place to tell the department what to do.

"Our agreement lapsed on 31 January 2016, and as such there is no obligation for us to consult on placement," Mabona said.

He said the Takalani Home for the Mentally Handicapped was ready to take in the 54 patients.

"The said patients are being discharged, however their families are not ready not accept them and some don't have families, hence we placed them at Takalani."

Meetings had been held with affected parties since last year, but this was just in good faith, Mabona said.

"Even after the lapse of the agreement we continued to engage them in good faith."

Best interests of patients

The 54 were, in clinical terms, ready to go home, Mabona insisted. Chambers said they were not.

"There are some patients that can be discharged and sent home, but that's looking at the overall three facilities - the three hospitals and the 2 000 plus patients," Chambers said.

"Looking specifically at the case today with the 54 patients, from the information we received from the hospital, a lot of these patients still need in-patient treatments or in-patient support. So these aren't necessarily your patients that can be discharged home, they can be placed in other alternative facilities," she said.

Although the matter was complex, the court action by the organisations was in the patients´ best interests.

"This is a very unique group of patients, so we have to make sure that their rights are maintained throughout this whole process. The facilities, the families, the patients, it's all part of the process.

"We are not trying to be difficult, we are trying to help and assist in the best interests of the patient."

Read more on:    johannesburg  |  health

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