Gauteng Health was in breach of an agreement when it moved mentally ill Life Esidimeni patients to facilities offering an inferior service, said Health Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi in response to opposition questions.
The Times reports that this was according to Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said this in response to a question from Annelie Lotriet of the Democratic Alliance‚ who wanted to know when he became aware of the saga. He said that the tragedy‚ in which nearly 100 mentally ill patients died in 27 unlicensed NGOs‚ had developed in various stages.
He had first heard of the intention to move the patients from Life Esidimeni when social justice group Section27 had written to the National Health Department in November 2015‚ threatening to take them to court if the move went ahead. The parties agreed to meet to discuss the matter in an attempt to settle it out of court.
“This meeting culminated into an agreement being signed between Gauteng Department of Health and the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) whereby it was agreed that if patients have to be moved‚ they will be moved to facilities that do not offer an inferior service to which they were receiving at Life Esidimeni. As it emerged later‚ Gauteng Department of Health unfortunately breached this agreement in every conceivable manner‚” Motsoaledi wrote in his response.
According to the report, he said Section 27 had approached the courts again in 2016 but had not cited the national department in the papers. They lost the interdict. “I then came to hear about the death of psychiatric patients who were moved from Life Esidimeni when the MEC for Health in Gauteng‚ in answering to a question in the legislature‚ announced that 36 mentally ill patients died under the care of NGOs in and around Gauteng. I was completely shocked and could not comprehend the whole thing. I immediately contacted the Health Ombudsperson‚ Professor Malegapuru Makgoba to investigate‚” he said.
Motsoaledi said he discovered the full extent of the tragedy when the ombud’s report was released earlier this year.
Gauteng Health MEC Gwen Ramokgopa says 91% of the remaining Life Esidemeni patients have been transferred to appropriate and suitable facilities and about 20 NGOs where they were housed before, have been closed down, reports News24. Ramokgopa is quoted as saying that they had endeavoured to be transparent, professional and careful throughout the process to ensure the safety of these patients,
She said her department had in the 96 days since Health Ombudsman Professor Malegapuru Makgoba’s report on the Life Esidemeni debacle, worked tirelessly to build the capacity of the province’s mental health directorate and to refocus it. The licensing requirements for NGOs are being reviewed as well.
The first patients were moved on 3 March, 2017, said Ramokgopa. According to her all the patients have been transferred “with the exception where there were disputes or misunderstandings”. There were cases where the patients’ families refused that they be moved and also because some of the NGOs had taken the matter to court, she said.
“We will continue monitoring the remaining patients and have taken steps to ensure that they be evaluated on a regular basis. We, as the department, take full responsibility for their well-being, but we are not satisfied with the state of affairs and insist that they be moved as well,” Ramokgopa said.
Ramokgopa said 390 patients had been moved to the Clinix Selby Park Hospital, 232 to the Life Baneng Care Centre and 128 to the Waverley Care Centre. Of these patients, 63 hadn’t previously been at Life Esidemeni, but had been identified by the task team. In total, there are 67 patients, who couldn’t be moved, left in the care of nine NGOs.
The quotes the Health MEC as saying that psychiatric patients admitted to general and psychiatric hospitals will stay there until their condition has improved to such an extent that they can also be moved. This includes 378 long term patients and 50 who are in acute care. Another five patients have died from natural causes since the ombudsman’s report. “We are of the opinion that even one death is unacceptable and asked for full post mortems in all five cases. We are waiting for the results.”
More than 100 patients died in 2016 after the department moved patients from Life Esidemeni to NGOs to save money. Ramokgopa’s predecessor, Qedani Mahlangu, quit in the aftermath of the debacle. The head of the department, Dr Barney Selebano, as well as Dr Makgabo Manamela, the department’s provincial director of mental health, were suspended by Gauteng Premier David Makhura and now face disciplinary action. Ramokgopa confirmed that they were still being paid in full, but said it was important to follow due process.
Meanwhile, the department has moved other staff mentioned in Makgoba’s report to other sections where they do not work with psychiatric patients. The provincial Health Department has also appointed a private lawyer and advocate to investigate their behaviour.
The report says according to Ramokgopa, her department is working closely with Makhura, the Gauteng Housing Department and the police to confirm the exact number of patients who died.