Last night’s (08/04/2012) suicide of a patient at Elizabeth Donkin Psychiatric Hospital is the second in as many months that could have been avoided if the department took overcrowding and lack of professional staffing seriously.
No matter which way the Eastern Cape Department of Health’s (EC DoH) spin-doctor Sizwe Kupelo spins it, the two recent suicides at an institution that has a past record of one to two suicides per decade is clear proof that overcrowding is having a direct effect on the patients’ wellbeing and the ability of the clinical and nursing staff to do their jobs effectively.
Within the psychiatric industry it is known that a suicide in a ward significantly increases the risk of other patients deciding to take the same route. It is one of the reasons why the population of psychiatric wards are kept smaller than those of general medical wards. So when you have a 32 bed ward with over 60 patients in it, suicide can in a sense become a highly infectious “disease”.
It is known that the Elizabeth Donkin Psychiatric Hospital has been instructed not to turn any patients away. An instruction such as this to a hospital already at over-capacity has a direct effect on the wellbeing of all the patients within it. It is imperative that the department changes this directive and either renovates to increase the bed capacity of the hospital, or seeks alternative medical accommodation for the patients that can be accommodated off-site.
The physical environment created by overcrowded wards also makes it virtually impossible for even the most efficient and passionate clinical and nursing staff to notice the signs within a patient that usually surfaces before an impending suicide. However, the fact that the EC DoH has allowed a vacancy rate of over 27,000 essential clinical and nursing staff in the province, created the fact that we are sitting with overcrowded wards that are severely understaffed.
The outlook on life is already bleak for a patient with suicidal tendencies, but add to that the fact that he has to sleep on the floor in an overcrowded ward and that there are not enough doctors and nurses to see to his immediate treatment needs, exacerbates his problems exponentially.
Because of the need to accommodate extra patients, this hospital does not have the space to keep the nursing stations in the wards, which infinitely decreases the nursing staff’s ability to keep a watchful eye over the patients.
I will be submitting Parliamentary Questions to the MEC of Health to ascertain exactly how many of the provincial hospitals in the province are risking the lives of patients due to overcrowding because of neglected infrastructural backlogs. I will also be writing to the SG, Dr. Siva Pillay to put an immediate stop to the directive that forces overcrowding at the Elizabeth Donkin Psychiatric Hospital.
It is extremely myopic that the ANC-led government saw it fit to decrease the provincial Health budget for the second year in a row. In any advanced and growing society health care is a delivery and financial priority, but in the Eastern Cape, it’s just ANC lip service.