Bioethics News

Nearly 100 psychiatric patients die of neglect in South Africa

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Cost cutting in mental health is both difficult and dangerous, South African politicians have learned. The country’s health ombudsman has released a searing report on the deaths of 94 patients who had been transferred from a mental institution to 27 unlicenced facilities run by incompetent NGOs.

Last year’s move of 1200 patients from Life Healthcare Group, a private South African healthcare organisation, “was unwise and flawed,” the report said, “with inadequate planning and a chaotic and rushed or hurried implementation process.” Investigators found that the patients were hungry, filthy and ill-clad. “It’s remarkable that only one person has died from a mental health-related illness,” Professor Malegapuru W. Makgoba, the ombudsman, said. The others died from “things like dehydration, diarrhea, epilepsy, heart attacks, all other things except mental illness.” The death toll could rise.

None of the facilities had doctors, nurses or psychiatrists. (For more details, see Huffington Post article.)

The scandal has rocked South Africa. The head of the health department of Gauteng province, who was responsible for the policy, has resigned, and there are calls for the provincial premier to do the same. 

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