Gauteng Health has less than 50% capacity to meet mental healthcare needs

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  • There is a severe shortage of mental healthcare beds in Gauteng hospitals.
  • Only one district meets the minimum number of beds required according to national health standards.
  • The department says that the demand for mental health services has increased because of Covid-19 and current socio-economic issues.

The Gauteng Department of Health reports a severe shortage of mental healthcare beds in the province's public hospitals.

Recently the department reported an increase in the number of mental healthcare users in the Helen Joseph Hospital emergency unit. The department admits to seeing an increased demand in all of its facilities.

"All our public hospitals have seen an increase in the demand for acute psychiatric beds in the province, although some more than others. This has been as a result of the upsurge of the burden of mental health diseases, compounded by [the] Covid19 pandemic and substance abuse in our communities. Some hospitals have created capacity to accommodate overlapping MHCUs [mental healthcare users]," the department told Health24.

Large gaps between demand and capacity 

The province says that it cannot meet the demand for mental healthcare services, with the pandemic contributing to the increased demand.

"Overall, the demand is higher than available supply by at least 50%, aggravated by Covid-19 and the current socio-economic situation," the department told Health24.

According to the national department of health standards, Gauteng is supposed to have at least 3 134 beds but only has 1 813 beds. Of these beds, 698 are in private hospitals.

"The severe deficit of acute inpatient beds is further exacerbated by the shortage of long-term beds (contracted and NGO run residential facilities), and patients who should be managed at these facilities end up occupying the limited acute beds," the department said. 

Only one out of the five districts can fulfil the mental healthcare patient bed demand: The West Rand needs 230 beds and has 332 available.

Ekurhuleni has the largest gap between demand and capacity, with 890 beds needed and only 50 available – followed by Sebokeng. Johannesburg requires 1 241 beds, but only has 346, and Tshwane needs 818, but can only offer 333.

The department added that these statistics do not account for the increase in demand that Covid-19 and the current socio-economic situation have caused.

Staff capacity 

Gauteng has almost 200 facilities with mental healthcare practitioners. There are four mental health specialised public hospitals, nine hospitals with designated wards, 17 facilities that render 72-hour assessments, and 169 clinics where a mental health practitioner is on hand.

The department says the increase in mental health patients makes it hard to track the patient- healthcare practitioner ratio. But according to their available records, in the province, there is one psychiatrist for every 25 patients, and one psychologist for every six patients.  

Although not all facilities are accounted for, Gauteng Health says that the province has 79 clinical psychologists, six child clinical psychologists, 48 psychiatrists, 949 mental health nurses, 55 lay counsellors and 93 social workers.

READ | Mental health in SA ranked among the worst in the world

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