Mathari Hospital hit by congestion crisis

Monday April 4 2016

Some of the patients undergoing treatment at Mathari Mental Hospital in Nairobi in this picture taken on January 22, 2013. PHOTO | BILLY MUTAI  NATION MEDIA GROUP

Some of the patients undergoing treatment at Mathari Mental Hospital in Nairobi in this picture taken on January 22, 2013. PHOTO | BILLY MUTAI NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By JOHN NGIRACHU
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The country’s only referral hospital for psychiatric care is unable to cope with an influx of patients sent there by courts and prisons.

According to the head of Mathari Hospital in Nairobi, Dr Julius Ogato, the facility is overloaded because it cannot turn away patients referred there for psychiatric evaluation and treatment by Government departments.

“The relationship between the Judiciary and the Mathari Hospital is non-consultative and characterized by poor collaboration and cooperation,”  Dr Ogato told the National Assembly’s Health Committee on Thursday.

When courts order for psychiatric evaluation of those charged with capital offences or when the prison authorities send mentally ill patients, the hospital has no option but to take them in, he said.

The official added that some of the referrals were unnecessary, citing patients who were sent there for failing to understand English, or Kiswahili, the languages used in court, or for domestic issues that had nothing to do with mental illnesses.

The Judiciary and the police often took long to pick up those who had been treated.

In some cases, he said, the suspects had terminal mental retardation and ended up staying at the hospital for long, citing the case of a patient who had been at the hospital for 23 years.

Dr Ogato said the hospital has a bed capacity of 250 and an average occupancy rate of 200 per cent, meaning it was operating with double the number of patients it should have.

The hospital was allocated Sh127 million for its recurrent expenses in the current financial year, which Dr Ogato said was inadequate.

The committee is looking into how the hospital, which has over time become a symbol of the bad way the mentally ill are treated in Kenya, operates.

Its attention was provoked by a petition from a mentally ill man who dropped out of university because he couldn’t get treatment for his condition.

He petitioned the committee to look into the situation at the hospital.

MPs were told that because the Maximum Security Unit at the hospital is an old building without proper sewerage, the patients were locked in at night with only a bucket to use as a toilet.

Deputy Commissioner of Prisons Benjamin Njoga and Correctional Services Principal Secretary Micah Powon said prisons were crowded and that they did not have any medical facilities.

Committee chairman Rachel Nyamai attributed the problems to a communication failure between the Judiciary, the police and the prisons.