Human rights abuses at a psychiatric hospital in KwaZulu-Natal
Background. Following allegations of human rights abuses at a psychiatric hospital in Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal, that were reported in one of the local newspapers, the national and provincial Ministers of Health visited the hospital. Because of the seriousness of the allegations, the national Minister of Health established a Committee of Enquiry to investigate the allegations. The 7 committee members included experts in mental health care services, legal services, public service sector, a hospital board member, and a representative of the community.
Objectives. The terms of reference of the Committee of Enquiry were to investigate allegations of human rights abuses of psychiatric patients at the hospital, and to report their findings to the Minister, in line with the media reports.
Methods. The public was invited through notices in the print and electronic media to make submissions relating to the allegations. Interviews and site inspections were conducted. Written submissions were received. Legislative and regulatory frameworks were studied. Reports of previous commissions as well as hospital records were analysed. Findings. The findings of the Committee confirmed all media allegations of human rights abuses as appearing in the terms of reference. In addition, the Committee identified the following systemic defects: (i) weak management over a long period of time; (ii) absence of a hospital board; (iii) inadequacies in the physical layout and quality of facilities; (iv) abuse of staff by patients; (v) staff reporting on duty under the influence of alcohol; (vi) high rate of absenteeism; (viii) shortage of staff; (viii) lack of discipline; (ix) evidence of racism, nepotism and favouritism; and (x) strained relations between the management and unions.
Recommendations. The Committee recommended that remedial and preventive measures be undertaken as a matter of urgency to combat human rights abuses and address deficiencies in the system.
South African Journal of Psychiatry Vol. 13 (4) 2007: pp. 137-142