Gauteng MEC for Health, Dr Bandile Masuku, says mental health care should be more community-based. He expressed this view at the launch of the psychiatric ward at Helen Joseph Hospital on Thursday.

The project seeks to refurbish the existing mixed bed acute adult in-patient psychiatric unit, to a gender differentiated unit.

Mental health made headlines in the Gauteng Province in the story of Life Esidimeni, a story that will remain a scar for family members of those who lost their lives.

Gauteng Health Department is trying to turn the tide against lack of care for mental health patients. Dr Masuku says a new approach is needed to make mental health care accessible.

”What we also have to do is move away from a hospi-centric type of care and more to community care. I think that’s what we’re going to invest in and that hospital will be for acute patients. Those recovering from rehabilitation will be taken care of in communities.”

Dr Masuku says they need to be able to treat mental health outside of hospitals. “I think the strategy shouldn’t be about building more; it should be about preventing and also have space where we can be able to treat and manage mental health outside hospitals.”

He also says that the department is planning to change its approach not only to operational issues, but treatment will also be given a face-lift.

“This new unit will be very helpful because it has a refurbished seclusion compared to the old wards that we have so we will be able to deal with those patients. The other challenges will be staffing, mainly we struggling with trained psychiatric nurses.”

Head of Psychiatrist, Prof Bernard Jasen Van Rensburg, says that they deal with a lot of substance-related problems and conditions.

“This is a very high turnover ward. We are in a general hospital so our consultation liaises with other departments and the big mandate for this type of unit is to investigate and exclude other mental conditions. We also deal a lot with substance related problems and conditions. I think generally, the type of burden is the turn over and acuteness I think people came in as a first port of call.”

The final phase of psychiatric ward project is underway. The ward will include twenty acute psychiatric beds for women while twenty beds will be reserved for men.