by Isak Fritz, MPL – DA Spokesperson of Health
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Date: 15 August 2018
The Democratic Alliance (DA) in the Northern Cape will request the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) to investigate the provision of forensic mental observations of defendants in the province.
This comes after the shortage of beds available for forensic mental observations has again come under the spotlight, following submissions in court yesterday that Siyand Gxwati, charged with killing 27-year old Refilwe Letebele at her parent’s home in Kimberley in January this year, will have to wait approximately 90 days to undergo psychiatric observation. Gxwati is said to be number 24 on the waiting list for forensic observations.
Earlier this year, the DA submitted parliamentary questions to seek clarity with regards the state of forensic mental observations in the province. This, after it came to light that Cornelius Vermeulen, who was charged with the murder of his father, was being accommodated at the Tswelopele Correctional Centre in Kimberley while undergoing forensic evaluation at West End Hospital. According to his legal representative, he was taken to West End hospital just twice a week for 30 minute sessions during this time.
To date, the DA has not received a response to our questions from the health department. We had hoped that by now we would have established the extent of the backlog of formal forensic mental observations of defendants, the time period for which all detainees have to wait to undergo the evaluations, and where respective detainees awaiting forensic evaluation are being accommodated, amongst other things.
The new R2 billion mental health hospital, which is touted by government as being the solution to all mental health care problems in the province, is still not open. This is in spite of promises that it would be operational by July. The department has also time and again committed to improving its management of forensic observations and state patients, and even performed costly and extensive upgrades at the old West End psychiatric facility, yet we continue to read about grave incidents of service delivery failures in this regard in the media. Shortages of available beds, as well as a dire lack of psychiatrists and psychologists, also continue to aggravate the problem.
The DA cannot allow the inferior quality of mental health care services in the province to continue passing under the radar, without any consequences.
The DA wants the SAHRC to investigate whether people’s rights to mental health services, particularly the rights of detainees and state patients, are being violated by the Health Department.
While this is not the first time the SAHRC has investigated such matters, we hope that this time the department will take their recommendations seriously.
It is increasingly clear that under the ANC-led government, mental health services will continue to take a back seat. Only change under a DA government, that acknowledges the escalating scourge of mental illness worldwide, and understands just how debilitating the effects of mental illness can be, will ensure that those afflicted by mental illness receive the care and treatment that they are entitled to.
Isak Fritz, MPL
DA Spokesperson of Health
083 395 2737
Shelley De Witt
082 847 1387