Original Research

Patients’ opinions about referral from a tertiary specialist psychiatric hospital to primary healthcare

Rene Hattingh, Pierre M. Joubert
South African Journal of Psychiatry | Vol 25 | a1212 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/sajpsychiatry.v25i0.1212 | © 2019 Rene Hattingh, Pierre Mauritz Joubert | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 21 February 2018 | Published: 31 January 2019

About the author(s)

Rene Hattingh, Department of Psychiatry, School of Medicine, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Pretoria, South Africa
Pierre M. Joubert, Department of Psychiatry, School of Medicine, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Pretoria, South Africa


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.


Mental Health Care; Primary Health Care Clinics; Down-referral; Decentralisation; Deinstitutionalisation


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Crossref Citations

1. Experiences of mental healthcare providers regarding integration of mental healthcare into primary healthcare at the iLembe health district in KwaZulu-Natal province
Siphiwe T. Madlala, Respect M. Miya, Mdumiseni Zuma
Health SA Gesondheid  vol: 25  year: 2020  
doi: 10.4102/hsag.v25i0.1143