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MENTAL HOSPITAL PATIENTS ESCAPE AFTER RIOT

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MANZINI – Dozens of hungry National Psychiatric Referral Hospital patients have allegedly escaped after a riot over food.

According to impeccable sources within the institution, which is located at Two Sticks in Manzini, the patients have been allegedly starving for almost a month, from November 1, 2020 to be specific.

They said this followed some changes which were implemented by the Ministry of Health in the beginning of November 1, 2020. They said the ministry, through a minute that was issued by the Principal Secretary (PS) in the Ministry of Health, ordered that the caterer of the institution should stop serving medical staff members with meals.

Served

All along, they said there were medical staff members who were served  breakfast and lunch by the cooks and there was no need for them to take a tea or lunch break. They added that under this arrangement, the medical staff members who received the meals would be in the wards during the tea and lunch breaks and the cooks were able to then serve the patients their meals.

However, the insiders said under the new arrangement, medical staff members take their 30 minutes morning tea break between 10:30am and 11am, lunch break from 1pm to 2pm and afternoon tea break between 3:30pm and 4pm.

“During these breaks, the patients are supposed to be served their meals, but now that a majority of the medical staff members go out to buy food, the cooks fear to go and serve the patients on their own,” the insiders said. 

As a result, they said the cooks dished up the food and waited for the medical staff members to return. However, the insiders said sometimes when they (staff members) returned to work, they found that the cooks were busy with other duties and could not go to the wards to serve the patients their meals.

In that regard, they alleged that sometimes, the patients got their meals later than the normal time, while at times; they did not get them at all. 

According to the insiders, yesterday afternoon, the hungry patients who had not been served meals for lunch, regrouped and charged towards the security guards and there was a scuffle.

Eventually, the sources said the patients overpowered the security guards, broke down the gate and got out of their demarcated area. They said some of the patients then used that chance to escape from the facility. However, the insiders said the number of escapees could not be gathered yesterday as the incident took place late in the afternoon. 

According to the minute which was signed by the PS in the Ministry of Health, Dr Simon Zwane, it had come to his attention that catering invoices reflected an amount charged for staff meals, which was something that resulted in irregularities in the issuing of the diet sheets. The PS said in the diet sheets, the number of meals did not tally with the number of patients in the wards and staff having meals while the catering contract excluded them (staff).

In that regard, the PS requested that as from November 1, 2020, the diet sheet should exclude the staff meals. “If there is a valid need for the staff to be catered for by the caterer, management should write and request for approval. The request for additional meals will be subject to the government Tender Board’s approval,” the PS said. He added that the management of the institution was also expected to resolve the issues of irregularities in the issuing of the diet sheet and capture the correct number of patients.

Meanwhile, the hospital’s Administrator, Neliswa Mabaso, said the rightful person to comment on the matter was the Director of Health Services, Dr Vusi Magagula.

Director

However, when Magagula was contacted, he said he was waiting for a report from the hospital. His last WhatsApp message to this publication was received at 7:17pm and he said he was still waiting for more information. 

It is worth noting that this is not the first time patients have escaped from the centre. In 2017, when patients admitted to the hospital were banned from smoking, they staged a violent protest action. 

They burnt their sleeping mattresses as part of the protest action and while guards attempted to quell the violence, about 30 of the patients escaped.



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