Sunday, 21 July, 2024
HomeNews UpdateState plans to use private hospitals to slash psychiatric assessment queues

State plans to use private hospitals to slash psychiatric assessment queues

Health Minister Joe Phaahla says that in future, mental health patients awaiting trial could have psychiatric observations in private hospitals, as government patients wait up to two years before being examined and mental health hospitals have a desperate shortage of beds.

Apart from contracting psychiatrists from the private sector to complement staff, they were also negotiating with some private hospitals to accommodate these patients because of  the lack of psychiatric beds, he said.

“Negotiations are continuing … We must just agree on the price.”

Apart from from limited funding, the bed shortages had been exacerbated by the demand for psychiatric observations by defence lawyers, reports TimesLIVE.

“Unfortunately this problem is not going to be sorted out in the short term. We have seen an increase of …when somebody has committed a crime, mental illness is put up as a defence by lawyers…

“Once this happens, the judges have no option but to get that person observed, putting more pressure on our facilities.”

Deputy Health Minister Sibongiseni Dhlomo said while services were starting to stabilise after the pandemic, the mental health burden had risen.

The national Health Department was finalising the review and update of the national Mental Health Policy Framework and Strategic Plan 2023-30, he added, which lapsed in 2020, and guides provinces on mental health promotion, prevention and treatment.

The plan would address, among other things, risk factors for mental health such as poverty, substance abuse and gender-based violence and unemployment.

“Unlike other disciplines that require mostly sophisticated technologies to diagnose and treat illnesses, mental health requires mostly human resources to diagnose, care, treat and rehabilitate mental illnesses.”

Since 2019, the department has trained 2 393 doctors and nurses in basic mental health skills, and had also approached the National Treasury to contract private mental healthcare professionals “to complement existing staff and render mental health services at primary healthcare”.

Currently, 40 out of the 336 hospitals have a mental health unit, and out of the 24 specialised psychiatric hospitals, 14 are designated to admit state patients, while 10 have capacity to conduct forensic mental observations.

Meanwhile, the EFF has rejected Phaahla’s budget, saying under his leadership, public health care was at its “worst status this country has ever witnessed”.

EFF MP Naledi Chirwa said patients continued to die at the gates of hospitals.

“Newborn infants die in their hundreds in hospitals. Thousands of young mothers are raising permanently paralysed children because of avoidable negligence, and healthcare workers are overworked and underpaid. Ambulance services don’t exist. People don’t even call for them any more because they don’t show up.”

Chirwa urged the national Health Department to prioritise primary health care, prevention and education.

“Increase and fill all vacancies of healthcare staff, and ensure there is at least one healthcare facility in every ward countrywide that is open for 24 hours, seven days a week,” she said.


TimesLIVE article – Health minister making a plan to slash psychiatric assessment backlog (Open access)


See more from MedicalBrief archives:


Mental healthcare resources dire in some provinces, says Phaahla


The sums on mental health care in SA are ‘not pretty’


Psychiatrists group urges government to spend more on mental healthcare


Safety audit proposed after hospital staff attacked by psychiatric patients


The triple A approach to tackling South Africa’s mental health challenges







MedicalBrief — our free weekly e-newsletter

We'd appreciate as much information as possible, however only an email address is required.