BACKGROUND : Referral of patients from tertiary specialist psychiatric hospitals to primary healthcare settings is a worldwide goal. This is of particular importance in South Africa with its considerable burden of mental disorders and limited resources. However, patients are often reluctant to be referred and studies have shown that patients may prefer a dedicated psychiatric service over an integrated primary healthcare service.
AIM : This study explored the opinions of patients receiving care at a tertiary psychiatric hospital’s outpatient department (OPD) about referral to a primary healthcare clinic (PHCC). SETTING : The study was conducted at Weskoppies Psychiatric Hospital OPD. METHODS : This was a qualitative study based on grounded theory. Participants were recruited through purposive-theoretical sampling. Data were collected by means of individual interviews and mini-essays.
RESULTS : From the 80 participants, 18 had individual interviews and 62 wrote mini-essays. Thirty-nine participants had previously attended a PHCC, while 41 had not. Perceived advantages of referral to PHCCs included: close proximity to participants’ homes, resulting in saving on travelling time and transport costs, as well as the convenience of receiving psychiatric and other medical treatment at the same healthcare facility. Perceived disadvantages of PHCCs included: unavailability of treatment; lack of doctor-based care; lack of specialised care; loss of established relationships with hospital healthcare workers; mistreatment by PHCC nursing staff; longer waiting times; more stigmatisation. CONCLUSION : The perceived disadvantages of referral from a tertiary psychiatric hospital to a PHCC outweighed the perceived advantages. Nonetheless, participants expressed willingness for such a referral if their concerns were addressed.