Human rights abuses at a psychiatric hospital in KwaZulu-Natal

D L Mkhize


Background:Following allegations of human rights abuses ata psychiatric hospital in Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal, thatwere reported in one of the local newspapers, the nationaland provincial Ministers of Health visited the hospital. Becauseof the seriousness of the allegations, the national Ministerof Health established a Committee of Enquiry to investigatethe allegations. The 7 committee members included expertsin mental health care services, legal services, public servicesector, a hospital board member, and a representative of thecommunity. Objectives:. The terms of reference of the Committee of Enquirywere to investigate allegations of human rights abuses ofpsychiatric patients at the hospital, and to report their findingsto the Minister, in line with the media reports. Methods.The public was invited through notices in the printand electronic media to make submissions relating to theallegations. Interviews and site inspections were conducted.Written submissions were received. Legislative and regulatoryframeworks were studied. Reports of previous commissions aswell as hospital records were analysed.Findings:The findings of the Committee confirmed all mediaallegations of human rights abuses as appearing in the termsof reference. In addition, the Committee identified the followingsystemic defects: (i) weak management over a long periodof time; (ii) absence of a hospital board; (iii) inadequacies inthe physical layout and quality of facilities; (iv) abuse of staffby patients; (v) staff reporting on duty under the influence ofalcohol; (vi) high rate of absenteeism; (viii) shortage of staff;(viii) lack of discipline; (ix) evidence of racism, nepotism andfavouritism; and (x) strained relations between the managementand unions. Recommendations: The Committee recommended that remedialand preventive measures be undertaken as a matter of urgencyto combat human rights abuses and address deficiencies in the system.

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Submitted: 08 January 2008
Published: 01 December 2007

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South African Journal of Psychiatry    |    ISSN: 1608-9685 (PRINT)    |    ISSN: 2078-6786 (ONLINE)