Health Department quietly scraps multi-million rand mental health facility amid growing EC crisis

The Department of Health has quietly scrapped a multi-million-rand mental health facility earmarked for Dora Nginza hospital, despite the growing crisis in mental health care in the province.

Unless this Department changes course when dealing with mental health issues, it is on track to a full-blown human rights crisis.

In response to a parliamentary question, MEC Helen Sauls-August confirmed that the planned facility, which was announced in 2013 and was meant to replace the failing Elizabeth Donkin Hospital, had been scrapped.

Sauls-August argues that the facility was too expensive to build, at R720 million, and that the initial funds earmarked for the facility in 2015/16, totalling R122 million, were redirected to other projects.

see: IQP 26 Q330

A special committee report, tabled in August, has lambasted the Department of Health for failings in the provision of Mental Health facilities.

The Elizabeth Donkin hospital, which this new facility was supposed to replace, is falling apart, with crumbling infrastructure and a lack of qualified staff and security personnel. The hospital is unable to admit new patients and unable to provide clothing for current residents.

SEE: ATC No 14 OF 14 AUGUST 2018

Even more disconcerting is that this news comes on the back of reports that the Life Esidimeni Care Centre in Kirkwood and the Life Esidimeni Algoa facility for children in Port Elizabeth, have only had their contracts renewed for a three-month term, and that hundreds of mental health patients could be left with nowhere to go, come Christmas.

On a recent oversight visit to the Kirkwood facility I was impressed at the level and quality of care being afforded to the 649 mental health patients at the facility.

It is clear though, that the current delays in the renewal of this tender has already had an impact on staff morale, and has exacerbated the challenges faced by the facility to meet its full staff complement.

With the Department already scrapping existing plans to increase facilities, and existing facilities turning away patients due to being over-capacity, one has to ask where they hope to find the additional 700 beds they would need to accommodate the patients from the Esidimeni centres.

It is therefore not surprising that the special committee report found that:

“The manner in which Head Office manages Mental Health Care is unsatisfactory and the manner it relates and relays information to Hospitals is divisive and might lead to many mental health professionals leaving the public service to join the private sector due to the unprofessionalism displayed by Head Office.”

Health Ombudsman Malegapuru Makgoba, recently made it clear that the Eastern Cape Department of Health has repeatedly failed to implement its mental health care plans and had failed to develop community-based health care services.

He insisted they require an external administrator to recover and take corrective action.

I will continue to raise the issue and fight for mental health in the province, and will be asking the MEC to elaborate on whether she will be implementing the recommendations of the ombudsman, and appoint an external administrator to take the corrective actions needed to provide the basic services the people of this province deserve!

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