11 June 2015

Abuse of mentally ill patient: SAHRC must act

The SA Human Rights Commission has been called on to get involved in the alleged assault of a mentally ill teen by a doctor at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital.


The SA Human Rights Commission should get involved in the alleged abuse of a mentally ill teen by a doctor at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital, the South African Federation for Mental Health (SAFMH) told Health24.

"As an act of abuse, this is something that the SA Human Rights Commission should also get involved in," said SAFMH programme manager Marthé Viljoen.

"Physically assaulting an underage boy who is vulnerable and mentally ill is abuse of the worst kind, and should not be tolerated in an institution that is supposed to provide care and assistance," the SAFMH noted in a statement.

Physical and emotional abuse of people with mental illness and disability remains a problem in South Africa, the SAFMH said, adding that it is something that it receives reports of on a weekly basis.

"That these abuses should be committed by a health care professional is extremely disappointing and concerning."

'Unconscious and in a pool of blood'

Claims emerged on Monday in The Citizen newspaper that a doctor beat a mentally ill 16-year-old boy into unconsciousness at the hospital in Soweto recently.

The Gauteng department of health told Health24 that it is investigating the incident.

The teen is alleged to have been intoxicated and was in an aggressive state. He is alleged to have bitten an elderly man who was assisting the doctor and a security official to help restrain him.

The unnamed source, who works at the hospital, told the newspaper that the patient was beaten multiple times in the face and was left in a pool of blood and without a tooth. However, he suffered no serious injuries according to brain scans.

Claims of neglect

The newspaper further reported that mentally patients also suffered bruising and nerve damage because the hospital restrained them with the use of bandages, instead of specially designed shackles.

The SAFMH said reports of patients receiving nerve damage and physical injuries due to these restraints should be investigated.

"Making use of bandages and other materials to restrain patients instead of appropriate restraints is against the Mental Health Care Act, as it endangers the health of patients."

The SAFMH acknowledged that dealing with a patient who is psychotic and may be aggressive, violent or intoxicated can be difficult and potentially dangerous.

"For this reason the Mental Health Care Act provides very strict and clear guidelines relating to the admission and care of such patients."

What the law says

Viljoen told Health24 it is negligence if interventions are damaging to the health of patients.

"Doctors take an oath to put the wellbeing of their patients first and to do no harm. It is also abuse and unconstitutional as the Bill of Rights explicitly say in Article 12 on Freedom and Security of the Person, point 1 - (c) to be free from all forms of violence from either public or private sources; (d) not to be tortured in any way; and (e) not to be treated or punished in a cruel, inhuman or degrading way.

"The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities also emphasises this in Article 15 on Freedom from torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment," she said.

The SAFMH noted that incidents such as this could also scare people away from seeking medical help and urged people to report abuse of the mentally ill.

"Mental health care users who witness or experience any kind of abuse or human rights violation have the option of reporting it directly to SAFMH via our Human Rights Watch reporting system:, 011 781 1852, or send a SMS or Whatsapp message to 076 0788 722."

Read more:

Mental Health Watch reporting system is launched in SA

Mom loses baby in Joburg hospital after three days of hell

Exclusive: Surgeon walks out on patient, not once but twice

Image: Hand on a window from Shutterstock.


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