SA Health Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi has intervened to halt the Eastern Cape‘s decision to move frail care patients from Life Esidimeni to NGOs, reports The Herald.
This follows the release last week of the Health Ombuds report on the deaths of 94 mentally ill patients similarly transferred.
After months of controversy and heartbreak caused by the Department of Social Development, Eastern Cape premier Phumulo Masualle has decided that the contract for Life Esidimeni to run the only two fully state-funded frail care centres in Port Elizabeth will be extended by one year.
The Herald reports that this follows a firm response from Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi to halt the proposed move of Port Elizabeth frail care patients to non-government organisations (NGOs) which triggered an uproar last year.
The report says the premier’s announcement represents a complete U-turn following Social Development MEC Nancy Sihlwayi’s bull-headed insistence 24 hours earlier that she would go ahead with the controversial plan to move frail care patients to NGOs despite a damning health ombudsman report on the deaths of mentally ill patients in Gauteng.
“The premier will confirm that he had a conversation with the national Minister of Health, Aaron Motsoaledi, and that they have decided the best approach will be to extend the (Life Esidimeni) contract,” Masualle’s spokesperson, Nonala Ndlozu, said. “In the next year, they will find the best way forward for both the department and the frail care patients.”
The report says there was an outcry in Port Elizabeth last year when the provincial Department of Social Development announced plans to move 240 patients from the Algoa and Lorraine frail care centres, run by Life Esidimeni – a subsidiary of Life Healthcare – and rehouse them with NGOs.
Motsoaledi had expressed anger at Sihlwayi’s plan to press ahead with moving the patients. Sihlwayi’s spokesperson, Mzukisi Solani, had earlier sent out a statement indicating that the MEC was intent on forging ahead with those plans.
Sihlwayi is quoted in the report as saying: “Some of the people in these centres are ill. I am not going to pay for ill people. They are even giving them oxygen that my department must pay for. My budget isn’t for oxygen. If people are sick, if they need a doctor or a physiotherapist, they must go to the state hospital. This frail care is only for the poor and the vulnerable. It is for people who have nobody to look after them.”
On behalf of the families of patients in the two Port Elizabeth centres, Gerhardt Loock said the premier’s decision was excellent news. “They finally started listening to us,” Loock said. “Our hearts go out to the families of the people who died in Gauteng. Their sadness really put our issue in the public domain. They cleared the way for us. It is a great victory for civil society. It is a great example of how the constitution helps people to enforce their rights. We would love to talk to the (Social Development) Department and present the side of the patients,” Loock said.
DA MPL Kobus Botha said the party welcomed the decision. “It paves the way for proper interdepartmental planning to take place now,” he said. “This will hopefully result in a smooth transition for frail care patients.”The Herald report