Helen Joseph in crisis as psychiatric patients flood the facility, assault staff
Thirty-two members of staff at Helen Joseph Hospital in Gauteng have been assaulted by psychiatric patients since the beginning of the year.
This is according to Gauteng health MEC Nomathemba Mokgethi who responded in a written reply to a query from DA Gauteng shadow health MEC Jack Bloom.
The patients have also caused “extensive property damage” at the hospital.
Last week Sunday Times spoke to a senior member of staff at the hospital who said the psychiatric departments were in crisis, as patients who did not have access to, or were not taking their medication, had worsening symptoms and were not stable.
She said long queues of these patients, some suffering psychotic conditions, made the environment unsafe for staff and patients.
She spoke anonymously out of fear of retribution from the hospital.
In a statement on Tuesday, Bloom said incidents have increased because of a massive increase in the number of psychiatric patients after the fire at Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital closed its psychiatric unit.
“Staff live in fear because of the violence from psychiatric patients.”
The reported incidents at Helen Joseph include:
- two nurses and a psychiatrist have been bitten;
- a nurse was hit by a patient who broke her glasses;
- a guard was stabbed and treated in casualty for a collapsed lung — his assailant escaped from the psychiatric ward but was apprehended by police at the hospital entrance, and;
- a psychiatric patient picked up a wheelchair and tried to throw it at staff, then broke off a bar from his bed and wielded it as a weapon.
He said other staff members have been slapped, scratched and molested.
Desperate staff call other psychiatric units every day for beds but usually none are availableDA Gauteng shadow health MEC Jack Bloom
“The property damage includes many broken windows, doors damaged, tampering with electrical cables and breaking of basins, taps and toilets. A bed and mattress were set alight.”
Bloom said there were only 45 beds for psychiatric patients but the hospital sees about 90 psychiatric patients every day.
A shortage of toilets for patients was also an issue.
“Desperate staff call other psychiatric units every day for beds but usually none are available.”
According to Mokgethi, they have “attempted to discharge patients who, despite not yet being psychiatrically well, are deemed a low risk to self or others and have opened a discharge clinic on a Monday to review these patients in the outpatient department”.
Bloom said extra staff and security were urgently needed, but the real problem was the continued closure of psychiatric wards at Charlotte Maxeke and the general shortage of beds in the province for mental health patients.
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