Gauteng Health has denied that 400 mentally ill patients moved from Life Esidimeni when the contract was terminated have gone missing.
The department said: “The Gauteng Department of Health wishes to put it on record that it has not abdicated its responsibility towards patients that were moved from Life Esidimeni when the contract was terminated in June 2016. All the NGOs are funded by the government for general upkeep of the patients and medical care which includes psychiatry and psychological treatment, procurement of medicine and other consumables.
“It should be noted that there are no missing patients from the Life Esidimeni, however, those that cannot be accounted for at NGOs and Gauteng psychiatric hospitals were taken home by their families.
“The decision to terminate Life Esidimeni contract was not taken lightly. Prior to moving patients the department together with patient’s relatives visited the NGOs to certify that they were suitable for upkeep of mental patients. Most of these facilities proved capable of providing inpatient care, treatment and rehabilitation for people with chronic psychiatric disorders, and severe intellectual disability. We continue to visit all facilities and NGOs to monitor the process.”
MEC Qedani Mahlangu said: “The budget allocation which was spent on the institution is now being reprioritised and will ensure that we employ more employees at our psychiatric wards in our hospitals. During 2014/15 financial year the department spent about R323m on Life Esidimeni. It is important to note that the department cannot afford this, which was likely to escalate yearly. Furthermore, the contract termination is in line with the Mental Health Care Act no 17 of 2002, which encourages mental health care practitioners to treat mental health care users in the least restrictive environment, as reflected in Chapter two subsection 6(8)(1)(2): Persons providing care treatment and rehabilitation service must provide such services in a manner that facilitates community care of mental health care users, human dignity and privacy of every mental health care user must be respected, every mental health care user to develop to full potential and be integrated to the community.”
The department said: “We have also absorbed employees of Life Esidimeni in order to ensure that they do not lose their jobs while benefiting from their skills in taking care of mental care users.
“The department continues to engage families who have decided to take their relatives home while they cannot take care of them, with aim to encourage a release of those patients in our care. We will also make sure that all those that stay far from facilities are assisted with transport when they wish to visit their relatives in NGOs or at our psychiatric hospitals.
“We wish to express our sincere apology for any inconvenience this process might have caused to families and encourage them to interact with the department directly for immediate intervention.
DA spokesperson on health in Gauteng, Jack Bloom said earlier in a Sowetan report that “mystery surrounds the whereabouts of about 400 chronically ill psychiatric patients who were discharged earlier this year from Life Esidimeni after the Gauteng Health Department cancelled its contract with them”. He said Gauteng Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu’s answer to his questions in the Gauteng Provincial Legislature revealed that “1,362 psychiatric patients were relocated from Esidimeni to three hospitals and 25 NGOs” and a “further 91 patients were discharged to the care of their families”.
“But last year‚ in another written reply to my questions‚ Mahlangu said that 1,671 patients at Esidimeni needed long-term care‚ and NGOs would also accommodate 113 patients that need medium-term care but are categorised as high-level functioning patients‚” Bloom said. “I am concerned that 1,784 patients were supposed to be placed in hospitals and NGOs‚ but this has only happened for 1,362 patients.”
According to the report, the department’s original plan was to “house 1,193 patients at the Weskoppies‚ Sterkfontein‚ Tshwane District and Cullinan Care hospitals‚ as well as refurbished parts of the Transvaal Memorial Institution (TMI)‚ Pinnar and Old Germiston Hospital. NGOs were supposed to house 591 patients”.
But‚ Bloom said‚ “according to Mahlangu…only 360 patients have been housed at Weskoppies‚ Sterkfontein and Cullinan‚ and none whatsoever at Tshwane District‚ TMI‚ Pinnar and Old Germiston Hospital”. “A total of 1,002 patients are now in 25 NGOs‚ ranging from 197 patients at Tshepong to one patient at Hephzibhar‚” he added.
“This shows extremely poor planning‚ and there are many complaints from relatives about the unsuitability of the NGOs and lack of care for patients who sometimes don’t get their medicine,” Bloom is quoted in the report as saying.