Psychiatric patients ‘not fed or cared for’

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Komani Pyschiatric Hospital nurses concerned about the gross treatment of patients. Photo: iStock
Komani Pyschiatric Hospital nurses concerned about the gross treatment of patients. Photo: iStock


That patients have to go to bed hungry and share toiletries are just two of the allegations of mistreatment that have been levelled against the Komani Psychiatric Hospital in the Eastern Cape.

Concerned nurses told City Press that they were worried about the gross mistreatment of patients, as the hospital was struggling to feed them properly.

Mental illness has been described as another pandemic plaguing South Africa – and it has been worsened by Covid-19.

READ: Mental health will fell SA if not tackled urgently

One of the nurses said the problem had started in 2020: “There were certain foods that were cut [out]. For instance, we have patients who can’t eat salty food and then there are those who have to eat soft food. Others are on a special diet and need to have chicken and vegetables. However, the CEO said the food was a waste and he also removed sausages and red meat from the patients’ diet. He then cancelled vegetables and fish, even though we have patients who don’t eat meat and rely on fish and vegetables.”

Another nurse said there were times when the kitchen staff used their own money to buy food.

She said: 

By November and December, this hospital doesn’t have food at all, which makes it impossible for the kitchen staff to cook. They would then donate money to buy mealie meal, but sometimes the patients have to go to bed on empty stomachs. I don’t know when the hospital last had any milk. The patients mostly survive on rice and pilchards. In the morning, they eat Morvite high-energy porridge. Some nurses even buy bread for patients in their wards.

The nurses said there was also a shortage of toiletries, so some of the patients had to share soap and deodorant.

“This used to be one of the cleanest hospitals, but now we’re struggling to get detergents. We don’t even have slippers for patients who don’t have shoes and they have to walk barefoot on the cold tiles. I wish government could come to our rescue because this hospital is falling apart – and the patients are blaming the nurses.”

Asked what happened to this year’s budget, they said the hospital CEO had told its management that there was no money.

The CEO failed to respond to questions sent to him a week ago and also failed to answer when he was called by City Press this week.

Earlier this year, while delivering her budget vote speech, Eastern Cape Health MEC Nomakhosazana Meth said mental health and mental health services were receiving government’s attention.

READ: Nurses bitten and hit by psychiatric patients in Helen Joseph Hospital

She said the department had three review boards located in Gqeberha, Komani and Mthatha, and each board had four members.

“The department’s currently constructing a perimeter fence at Komani hospital to ensure safety for patients and staff, at a cost of R8.9 million,” she said.

She added that R558 million had been allocated for services provided by psychiatric hospitals in 2022/23.

DA Eastern Cape shadow health MEC, Jane Cowley, said mental health challenges had increased substantially in the past few years, but the department had not increased its services to absorb the demand.

She said: 

The Komani Psychiatric Hospital is a 440-bed facility for mental health patients and forensic psychiatric patients and has a 90% bed utilisation rate, but there isn’t a single permanent specialist psychiatrist based there. While it should have 33 specialist psychiatric nurses, it currently has only six.

Eastern Cape health spokesperson Yonela Dekeda said the hospital had been allocated a sufficient budget for patient food services for the current financial year.

“The department has an approved eight-day cycle menu, which includes starch, vegetables and protein. Pilchards constitute protein in any meal and the hospital’s giving patients oat porridge and Morvite for breakfast on a rotational basis,” she said.

She said that, on February 16, a Constitutional Court ruling had resulted in government departments nationally not processing all new contracts aligned to the procurement regulations.

READ: Millions to be spent on fence for Komani psychiatric hospital

“This meant that all contracts which came to an end in March left the Komani institution relying on the procurement of goods and services below R30 000. This wasn’t ideal, as it meant the hospital had to engage in weekly procurement processes for smaller quantities of food at a time. Products costing less than R30 000 for more than 400 patients only last a few days and the process of generating and sourcing quotations through to issuing an order can take up to five days,” said Dekeda.

However, she added that the procurement processes following the Constitutional Court ruling had been resolved administratively and the hospital had advertised bids for patients’ food.

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