Dismal use of legal safety net for mental health patients

Chris Bateman


It’s been eight years since South Africa’s ailing Mental Health Care Act was completely revised to better protect the human rights of patients with mental illnesses, thus revealing some horrific systemic and social abuses, but a dim ray of hope is that the safety net can be made to work.

One rare example is the Western Cape where, according to Dr Tom Sutcliffe, former provincial Director-General of Health (1993 - 2002) and now chairperson of the trend-setting (Western Cape) Mental Health Review Board, ‘I’d be hard pressed to name a single hospital that doesn’t manage its mental health care patients at district and hospital level adequately’. He says the country’s multiple boards are statutorily obliged to review all case histories of institutionalised patients at least annually. This was not the case before the new (2004) promulgation. In terms of the revised Act, boards were set up incrementally across provinces from April 2005 onwards (Gauteng and the Free State have three each to cover their more numerous health districts, while many provinces have two).

Author's affiliations

Chris Bateman, HMPG

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Mental Health Review Board

Cite this article

South African Medical Journal 2012;102(2):68-72.

Article History

Date submitted: 2012-01-05
Date published: 2012-01-26

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