The South African Society of Psychiatrists (Sasop) on Wednesday called for a restructuring of the mental healthcare system in the country to help address the current crisis.
The call comes following the damning report last week by the health ombudsman that at least 94 mentally ill patients died in the care of NGOs contracted by the Gauteng health department after ending its agreement with Life Esidimeni Hospital.
Sasop President Professor Bernard Janse van Rensburg, said the current situation was as a direct result of accumulating years of neglect, delay and failure to prioritise mental healthcare services in Gauteng, as well as in other provinces.
Sasop called for the correct and differential licensing of non-governmental organisations(NGOs).
“We are convinced that unless there is a particular and significant commitment by the political principals of the National and Gauteng Departments of Health to make the necessary resources and funds available now to restructure the system that it will not be possible to address the extent of the current crisis,” said van Rensburg.
Van Rensburg said that it was of great significance that the Health Ombud’s first major report had put such emphasis on the need to prioritise mental healthcare services in South Africa and on the importance of preserving the human rights of mental healthcare users, who were often the most vulnerable.
“Of equal importance will be to capacitate all district hospitals, in the different districts in Gauteng, to provide appropriate primary psychiatric services.”
Van Rensburg said they wanted to emphasise the need for the identification and costing of the required facility and staffing interventions that must be in place to ensure capacity and integration on different levels.
“Sterkfontein Psychiatric Hospital, for example, also experiences the impact on its staff and facilities of having to admit some of the ex-Life Esidimeni transfers, including a more extended waiting list of forensic observation cases.
“We believe that the remaining Life Esidimeni Hospital patients, currently still in unlawful NGOs, should in the interim actually be transferred back again to and accommodated in facilities such as those operated by Life Esidimeni Hospital, as a safe temporary ‘holding space’, until the detail and logistics of the implementation of a proper deinstitutionalisation process could be established,” said van Rensburg.
– African News Agency