National

Psychiatric patients languish in police holding cells

Sarah Evans

The health department could face litigation for not taking adequate interim measures to care for psychiatric patients.

Since Calvinia became part of the Northern Cape in 1994, the nearest mental-health facility has been roughly eight hours away at the West End Hospital in Kimberley. (AFP)

John (not his real name) from Calvinia in the Northern Cape was allegedly raped in the local police cells in August this year.

John has been a state patient for 23 years and was institutionalised for the first time in the 1980s. He would occasionally self-medicate with alchohol.

Since Calvinia became part of the Northern Cape in 1994, the nearest mental-health facility has been roughly eight hours away at the West End Hospital in Kimberley, where only 12 beds are available for psychiatric patients.

John has never been convicted of a crime. He suffers from bipolar disorder and his 83-year-old mother had called the police that night in August, after a mental collapse. That was the night he was allegedly raped in the cells.

After the intervention by a social worker who heard about the rape, John was admitted to a hospital in Calvinia. His brother alleges that he received no counselling in hospital.

“The nurses shoved a heap of pills in his hand and walked away,” he said.

Trauma
The same social worker fast-tracked his admission to the West End hospital in Kimberley.

He was sent home several weeks later with strict instructions to keep taking his medication.

His brother said: “He was so angry. He walked around Calvinia telling everyone what happened to him. It was terribly traumatic for the family. It was like we were in mourning.

“John got better for a few weeks and took his medication regularly. But after a short while, the drinking started again and he had extreme mood swings.”

Now, John’s family regularly admit him to the local hospital.

“They give him an injection and he is calm for a while, then it starts all over again,” his brother said.

A Democratic Alliance member of the Northern Cape legislature, Karen de Kock, said the health department could face litigation for not taking adequate interim measures to care for psychiatric patients while the new Kimberley psychiatric hospital was under construction. She said John’s case was not unique.

In another case, a mentally ill man from Springbok in the Northern Cape languished in jail for four years while awaiting placement at West End Hospital.

The case caught the attention of Parliament’s correctional services committee this year. The department confirmed that the man in question was arrested but declared unfit to stand trial in 2008.


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