Persistent shortages of critical Mental Health Professionals in Eastern Cape must be addressed

Issued by Jane Cowley, MPL
Shadow MEC for Health

The state of mental healthcare services in the Eastern Cape continues to decline, despite strong recommendations made in 2018 by the Health Ombudsman to ensure that Mental Health institutions in the province are effectively staffed and properly maintained.

Instead of heeding the Health Ombudsman, and despite the Mental Health division being placed under administration, the state of mental healthcare has worsened year on year.

People with mental health disorders are being treated inhumanely, and cruelly abandoned when they need help the most.

This is devastating news in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic, where many have suffered cognitive impairment and mental health strain while trying to cope with our altered life circumstances.

In response to a parliamentary question from the Democratic Alliance, Health MEC Nomakhosazana Meth revealed that shocking staffing issues in the mental health division have in fact worsened over the past two years.

  • There are only two psychiatrists employed in state hospitals in the Eastern Cape, and one of these is an unfunded post.
  • There are only thirteen psychiatric nurses in the seven institutions that cater for mental health patients in the province. One hundred and twenty-five of these posts are unfunded and vacant.
  • Joe Gqabi District and Alfred Nzo District do not have a single bed for mental health patients.
  • There are just 79 psychiatric staff members (including psychiatrists, operational managers, area managers and professional nurses) to cater for the 1421 mental health beds in the province.
  • There are only 20 beds across the province for patients suffering from mental health disorders due to drug abuse.

See Response

There are now less mental health beds in the province than there were in 2018, a sad indictment on the Department’s 2019 Mental Health Infrastructure Strategic Plan, which would see increased capacity across all districts by 2025.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, the incidence of people suffering from mental health issues has risen sharply, but mental facilities are filled to capacity. This forces general hospitals to keep patients far longer than the 72-hour observation period as per national norms and standards.

Hospitals are being overburdened and are not necessarily qualified to cater for such patients.

Drug abuse has also increased sharply in recent years, particularly amongst the youth. There simply isn’t the capacity to assist these individuals.

I will write to MEC Meth, to urge her to ensure that the Mental Health Strategic Infrastructure Strategic Plan be implemented, so that mental health patients are able to receive the care they require.

The ongoing failure to do so is further evidence that the Department of Health is factually bankrupt and should be placed under administration, before more citizens suffer from these systemic failures.

A capable state would ensure that the most vulnerable citizens are catered for in institutions that are adequately equipped with human and infrastructural resources that allow them to live their best lives.

Our mental health patients in the Eastern Cape deserve the same.