- Six patients with an eating disorder have been on the Tara Hospital waiting list for 214 days.
- The Gauteng health department says all patients referred to the hospital are put on a waiting list depending on the patients' needs.
- Sadag says waiting lists are not unique and mental health needs to become a priority.
A total of six patients living with an eating disorder have been on the waiting list at Tara Hospital in Johannesburg for 214 days, the Gauteng health department revealed on Tuesday.
"All patients referred to Tara are put on a waiting list depending on the patients' needs," Gauteng health department spokesperson Kwara Kekana said.
"This is determined by the appropriateness and availability of the programmes and the risk assessment of the Mental Health Care User (MHCU)," she added.
The referred specialised psychiatric hospital, which offers tertiary and quaternary level services, has a number of patients in different categories on the waiting list.
Kekana, however, added that patients waiting at home could access the services if their condition deteriorated.
"The patient may access the services if the condition deteriorates and they become acute and must therefore attend any of the provincial emergency services from where they will be assessed for the need for specialised psychiatric admission according to the Mental Health Care Act," Kekana explained.
Normal practice – Sadag
Cassey Chambers, operations director at the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag), said often there were waiting lists at clinics, hospitals and even facilities like Tara.
"This is not unique – waiting lists occur at facilities all around the country. I think also with lockdown, when many facilities were not taking on new referrals, this would have contributed to the backlog," she told News24 on Friday.
According to Sadag, less than 5% of the health budget was allocated to mental health and the treatment gap for care is 1 in 10 – indicating that only 1 in 10 people with a mental health issue had access to treatment.
"The demand on mental health services has grown exponentially since lockdown – we didn't have enough resources available before lockdown. That became even worse during lockdown when some of those services were closed or temporarily redirected for Covid relief.
"We are also currently dealing with a very concerning medication stock out issue for mental health meds. All of these factors don't help patients who rely on treatment and meds to stay well and manage their illness. Mental health needs to be a priority," she explained.
Chambers said keeping patients on a waiting list at home could worsen their situation and they were at a higher risk of needing to return to hospital for emergency care while they wait for space at another facility.
"Having patients who need serious treatment to wait at home until they can get into a facility means that many don't get better. In fact, they could be getting worse. Many might stop their treatment or meds. They are not getting the intervention they need and this impacts them further as well as their families," she said.