The Minister of Health‚ Dr Aaron Motsoaledi‚ has asked the Health Ombudsman to investigate allegations that 36 psychiatric patients in Gauteng died after being transferred from Life Esidimeni into the care of non-governmental organisations earlier this year.
The Times reports that the decision to ask the Health Ombudsman to investigate the allegations was taken after a marathon consultation meeting between Motsoaledi and Gauteng MEC for Health Qedani Mahlangu on Wednesday afternoon‚ the minister’s spokesperson‚ Joe Maila‚ said.
He added that Mahlangu had given the minister an update report on the transfer of psychiatric patients and requested their intervention of the national department to deal with the matter effectively.
The Times reports that speaking in an interview on Wednesday afternoon on Radio 702, the South African Depression and Anxiety Group’s (Sadag’s) operations manager‚ Cassie Chambers said that a proper investigation should be conducted in order to establish the cause of the deaths of 36 psychiatric patients in the care of non-governmental organisations.
“It’s very alarming that there have been 36 patients that have died for whatever reasons. I’m hoping for an investigation and that a proper accountability is given (as) we have received reports and spoken to family members who have come forward‚” Chambers said.
“The information that we are getting is not just because they are dying from a chronic illness‚ they are dying from things that should have been avoided or prevented. These are concerns that have been brought forward to the department and to the (Gauteng MEC for Health and Social development Qedani Mahlangu) over the last few months‚” said Chambers.
It was earlier reported that 36 patients that were transferred from Life Healthcare Esidimeni earlier this year had died while in the care of the NGOs in which they were placed by the Gauteng DoH. The Times reports that this was disclosed by the Gauteng Health MEC in an oral reply to questions from Jack Bloom‚ DA Gauteng shadow health MEC‚ in the legislature.
The report says the psychiatric patients were moved into 122 NGOs after the department cancelled its long-running contract with Life Healthcare which looked after about 2‚000 patients.
“I am horrified that so many patients have died from undisclosed causes after being transferred to NGOs‚ many of which relatives have said are unsuitable‚” Bloom said. Carte Blanche recently reported on the issue‚ interviewing family members about their concerns. Bloom said eight patients died at the Previous Angels NGO alone‚ while others died at Takalani and at the Cullinan Centre.
Mahlangu said that the patients were transferred without clinical files that detailed their medical history‚ and doctors were sent to the NGOs to examine the medical needs of the patients‚ according to Bloom.
Bloom is quoted in the report as saying: “There needs to be accountability for the deaths of so many patients. The department should ascertain the cause of death in all cases and take stern action where there is proven negligence”.
The department says it has launched an investigation into the deaths, reports Eyewitness News. “Also we’ll consider whether we’ll do post mortem and look at the results of that. But the bottom line, yes the patients died and our sincere condolences to the families. And any loss of life in any of our institutions is one too many,” Mahlangu said.
Earlier this month, Mahlangu said the department had uncovered unsuitable conditions at some health centres – which required intervention. “I was talking to the mother who was running one the centres located in Braamfischerville and we said to her the facility is not adequate enough for the patients.”
But, according to the report, Sadag says some of these centres were unsuitable from the very start and shouldn’t have been entrusted with the lives of patients.
Mahlangu said in an interview on Radio 702: “I am not going to discuss in public the outcome of these things because we are beginning to encroach into a private doctor-patient relationship and that can’t be correct.”
And, says a report in The Times, it is not clear whether the causes of death will be released to the public once the investigation has been wrapped up. Mahlangu said: “We will continue with the investigation‚ with the forensic pathologist as well as the team from justice‚ just to look at what the causes of death of these particular individuals (are).
“Let’s not get into the merits of the causes of death. Let’s allow the professionals to do that work. Then we can have a conversation‚ not about what the causes of death are‚ but about whatever the issues [are] that will come out.”
The report quotes Mahlangu as saying that the deaths may not necessarily be related to the move and that all was not well at Life Esidimeni at the time the patients left. The patients were transferred without their clinical files.
“Simply‚ what I think I need to indicate to the public is that when the patients were (taken) over from Life Esidimeni not everything was hunky-dory and we’ve finally had a meeting with them last week.” Mahlangu said Life Esidimeni is expected to share the clinical files of patients with the department soon‚ which will assist in the investigation.
Mahlangu also said that some patients and their family members had been “difficult” during this time. “Some of them are extremely difficult. They have been difficult from day one when we had a meeting with them‚ (with) myself present (and) the HOD present. But we want to continue to want to work with them in accordance with keeping with our responsibility of providing quality health.”
“The important thing we said‚ and I continue to say that‚ (is that) we are not going to make these patients worse off,” the Health MEC is quoted in the report as saying.
The mother of one of the psychiatric patients who were moved to an unprepared facility has explained how she has observed her daughter’s condition deteriorate, reports The Times.
Nomzamo Mokoena (not her real name) has her daughter at the Takalani centre in Soweto and she is quoted in the report as saying how things have changed since her daughter arrived at the facility.
She visited the facility towards the end of July to see how her daughter was doing. She was shocked to learn that at the time‚ the workers at the facility were on strike and security guards were having to help out.
“My daughter was a yellow bone but since she arrived there she has turned into a black bone. She has lost so much weight. When I gave the food‚ she ate like she had not eaten in years. That facility is a living hell for her. Men can easily get access to the females’ ward and the staff there when we visited was on strike.
“It was winter and my daughter had nothing warm on her and she was shivering. There is nothing there. The place traumatised her so much that she was trying to force her way out so that she could go with us when we were leaving‚” Mokoena said.
The report said Takalani was one of many NGOs that took in psychotic adults when the contract with Life Esidimeni was cancelled. Mokoena says the decision taken by the department was selfish and had no consideration for ordinary people.
“This government is cruel. They do not care about us or any ordinary person. All they think about is themselves. We are putting our hope in God now. It is only Him who can help us now‚” said Mokoena.
The report said one of the officials proposed that she take her daughter to a facility in Mohlakeng which would be closer to her home but Mokoena refused as she claimed it was worse. “I went to see it. The place is small and a lot of patients are put in a small room with no space to move around. I am not taking my daughter there‚” Mokoena said.