Depression

Updated 17 March 2016

Joburg mental patients left out in the cold

The Gauteng Department of Health is being urged to protect the human rights of the mentally ill patients at Life Esidimeni.

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The South African Federation for Mental Health (SAFMH) is calling on the Gauteng Department of Health to protect the human rights of the mentally ill patients at Life Esidimeni.

The plight of 54 patients from Life Esidimeni hospital which houses about 2 000 mental health patients is in the spotlight as South Africa celebrates Human Right’s Day on the March 21.

Read: The most common mental health disorders in South Africa

The South Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg on Tuesday dismissed an urgent application trying to prevent the Gauteng health department from discharging 54 patients the hospital.

The department and the hospital had reached a settlement agreement in December last year to terminate its contract with the hospital group, which served more than 2 000 patients aged between 24 and 101.

The hospital, which was based in Randfontein on the West Rand, provided in-patient care, treatment, and rehabilitation for people with chronic psychiatric disorders and severe intellectual disabilities.

"The manner in which the termination of the Life Esidimeni contract has been managed by the Gauteng Department of Health has raised concerns regarding whether the human rights of the residents of the Life Esidimeni facilities are being protected," stated SAFMH programme manager Marthé Viljoen in a statement.

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"The 1200 residents of the Life Esidimeni facilities were not adequately consulted in terms of their relocation, and there are not enough residential facilities available to accommodate them."

Viljoen said this means that many people will either be moved to facilities that do not have the resources needed for their care, or they will be left homeless.

She went on to noted that when the termination of the Life Esidimeni contract was announced, the department claimed that the termination was in line with an ongoing process of de-institutionalisation.

"However de-institutionalisation (or downscaling of institutionalised care) ideally needs to go hand in hand with the upscaling of community based care and this has not been done adequately enough to ensure that there are NGO’s and facilities that can accommodate these residents by March 2016.

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"There are also concerns that the services and support that theses residents need right now will not be provided, and that this issue is not receiving the necessary attention and resources to ensure a seamless transition for the residents," said Viljoen.

SAFMH called on the department to reallocate the money that will be saved by the termination of the contract to community based mental health services, in-line with the Mental Health Policy Framework and Strategic Action Plan 2013-2020, rather than redirecting it back to institutionalised care.

Cases like this, Viljoen said, illustrate the lack of implementation of the policy framework and highlight the need for government to start making a more concerted effort to put policy into practice.

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Depression expert

Michael Simpson has been a senior psychiatric academic, researcher, and Professor in several countries, having worked at London University in the UK; McMaster University in Canada; Temple University in Philadelphia, USA.; and the University of Natal in South Africa.

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