Moreover, reports have emerged that patients at the hospital were being restrained using bandages, instead of specially designed shackles. The use of bandages to restrain patients was alleged to have caused some of them to suffer bruising and nerve damage.
The Citizen was alerted to an incident that was said to have occurred recently at the hospital, in which a 16-year-old boy was brought into casualty and then beaten so badly that he incurred a number injuries and eventually lost consciousness. The patient was described as having arrived at casualty in an aggressive and agitated state. It was further believed he was intoxicated.
According to the source, a male doctor working in casualty started hitting and kicking the teenager after security guards and an elderly man – who was escorting another patient – tried to help and restrain the boy. The teenager, who was apparently in a psychotic state, bit the elderly man, according to the source.
“The casualty doctor laid into the patient and basically beat him up,” said the source. “He beat him in the face multiple times, he was black and blue. He lost a tooth and was unconscious in a pool of blood … unconscious for a few minutes.”
A psychiatrist working at the casualty section tried to intervene and obtain help to stop the beating, but no one would assist. After the beating, the teenager lay on the floor in a pool of blood, according to the source. The doctor responsible for the assault then left casualty and the blood on the floor was removed by a cleaner.
The teenager’s father, who brought him in, had not witnessed the assault as he been opening a file for his son. When he returned, he was handed a tooth and told his son lost it while biting the elderly man.
The boy was was eventually restrained and admitted. “We sent him to the trauma section for a brain scan to make sure there was no serious injury, which there wasn’t, but he had lost consciousness,” said the source.
The Gauteng department of health initially denied having any record of the incident. Later, the department said the allegations that a doctor had beaten a patient were being investigated. The outcome would be made public in due course.
The Citizen understands the doctor in question initially denied assaulting the patient, but later signed a document in relation to a written warning connected with the incident. Patients with suspected mental illnesses who arrive at the casualty section of the hospital are said to be restrained with the use of bandages in such a manner that they incur injuries, including nerve damage.
According to the source, every patient who arrives at the hospital with a suspected psychiatric illness is physically restrained. However, the hospital does not have the appropriate restraints in stock and uses bandages.
“Any patient that they think has a mental illness, even if it’s depression, they tie them up,” the source revealed. “Casualty has this policy, which is appalling. Any patient they suspect of having a psychiatric illness they physically restrain. The hospital has run out of, misplaced or broken the appropriate restraints … which are padded. So they tie them up with bandages – to the stretchers on wheels.
“We have complained several times because we have seen nerve damage as a result of patients being tied up too tight.
“If their wrists are tied up too tight, their hands don’t work any more. We have had some quite serious repercussions from that,” said the source. After a number of complaints, padded restraints were apparently received and used, but the source said the hospital no more of them.
Gauteng health spokesperson Steve Mabona could not offer a detailed response to the allegations. “Mechanical restraints” might be a last resort but, if used, this should be done according to the Mental Health Care Act (MHCA) regulations, he said.
“If bandages are used they should be well padded and patients have to be closely observed as indicated in the Act,” said Mabona.
He did not comment whether the hospital had the appropriate medical restraints and if staff had been trained in the proper restraint of mental patients. Training was offered by Sterkfontein Hospital and accredited physical restraints “could be purchased”.
These restraints were specially designed and padded to safely restrain a patient’s body. They allowed good circulation and the person also had to be closely monitored, as required by the MHCA.