Komani Psychiatric Hospital in the Eastern Cape has been accused of gross mistreatment of patients – that they go to bed hungry and share toiletries – and that nurses often have to buy bread to feed them. However, the CEO has said there is no budget to buy supplies for the 440-bed facility.
And millions of rands are being spent on a security fence for the institution.
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, and that “the department is currently constructing a perimeter fence at Komani Hospital to ensure safety for patients and staff, at a cost of R8.9m”.
But concerned nurses told City Press they were worried about the patients, as the hospital was struggling to feed them properly.
The shortages 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 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.”
The hospital CEO had told its management there was no money left in the budget, and failed to respond to questions when he was called by City Press.
Meth said the department had three review boards located in Gqeberha, Komani and Mthatha, and each board had four members. She added that R558m 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 has 440 beds for mental health 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 is giving patients oat porridge and Morvite for breakfast on a rotational basis,” she said.
She said that on 16 February, a Constitutional Court ruling had resulted in government departments nationally not processing all new contracts aligned to the procurement regulations.
“This meant that all contracts that ended 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 last only a few days and generating and sourcing quotations through to issuing an order can take up to five days,” she said.
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