n African Journal of Psychiatry - A framework for current public mental health care practice in South Africa : review

Volume 10, Issue 4
  • ISSN : 1994-8220



One of the main aims of the new Mental Health Care Act, Act No. 17 of 2002 (MHCA) is to promote the human rights of people with mental disabilities in South Africa. However, the upholding of these rights seems to be subject to the availability of resources. Chapter 2 of the MHCA clarifies the responsibility of the State to provide infrastructure and systems. Chapters 5, 6 and 7 of the Act define and regulate the different categories of mental health care users, clarify the procedures around these categories and spell out mental health practitioners' roles and responsibilities in this regard. Also according to the National Health Act No. 61 of 2003, the State remains the key role player in mental health care provision, being responsible for adequate mental health infrastructure and resource allocation. Due to "limited resources" practitioners however often work in environments where staff ratios may be fractional of what should be expected and in units of which the physical structure and security is totally inadequate. The interface between professional responsibility of clinical workers versus the inadequacy of clinical interventions resulting from infrastructure and staffing constraints needs to be defined. This paper considered recent legislation currently relevant to mental health care practice in order to delineate the legal, ethical and labour framework in which public sector mental health practitioners operate as state employees. These included the Mental Health Care Act, No.17 of 2002; the National Health Act, No. 61 of 2003 and the proposed Traditional Health Practitioners Act, No. 35 of 2004. Formal legal review of and advice on this legislation as it pertains to public sector mental health practitioners as state employees, is necessary and should form the basis of the principles and standards for care endorsed by organized mental health care practitioner groups such as the South African Society of Psychiatrists (SASOP).

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