On Tuesday (4 September 2018) the Health MEC, Helen Sauls-August, declared that her department has set aside R10 million to address staff vacancies in mental health posts. While this move is welcomed, it is just a drop in the ocean when compared to the actual needs of a directorate that has been mismanaged and neglected for years.
By the MEC’s own admission there are more vacancies in the province than actual staff.
Sauls-August said the money had been set aside in this financial year to cater for specialised mental health staff. This has been earmarked specifically for community-based healthcare programmes, which will recruit 3 psychiatrists, 20 psychiatric nurses, 4 psychologists and 16 registered counsellors.
But what she failed to mention was that the 43 staff identified is far short of the hundreds of critical vacant posts this province so desperately needs!
In response to a parliamentary question, Sauls-August revealed that according to national norms, our province requires 868 psychiatric nurses, but just 410 posts are currently filled, and of the 27 psychiatrists needed, we only have 12.
In fact, she goes on to say that in the Alfred Nzo district and Joe Qgabi district, there are no psychiatric nurse and no psychiatrists, with patients having to travel to neighbouring districts for care.
In his recent report regarding services at the Tower Mental Hospital, Health Ombudsman Malegapuru Makgoba, made it clear that the Eastern Cape Department of Health had 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!