In the 79 days since the release of the Health Ombudsman’s report into the death of around 104 mentally ill patients in Gauteng ‘not more than six’ additional patients have died – but not from mental illnesses or negligent care. Health-e News reports that this is according to newly-appointed Health MEC Dr Gwen Ramokgopa, who has given an update on the report into the transfer of over 1,300 psychiatric patients from Life Esidimeni to other facilities in what was meant to be a massive cost-saving exercise.
Health Ombudsman Professor Malegapuru Makgoba’s investigation into the deaths of over 100 patients who were moved from Life Esidimeni facilities to various non-governmental organisations (NGOs) around the province found that only one died of a mental illness. The other deaths were mostly due to unacceptable conditions at 27 NGOs operating with unlawful and “invalid” licenses, supplied to them by department officials. Patients placed in their care went without basics such as food and chronic medication. Some deaths were due to dehydration, hunger, infections and seizures.
According to the MEC, the handful of deaths that have occurred since then were due to conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure and cancer. One patient died of a heart attack. “These patients who have since passed on did not pass on in the inhumane, negligent and unacceptable conditions of other former Life Esidimeni patients,” said Ramokgopa.
The report says Makgoba’s report found that the transfer of the 1 371 patients between March and December 2016, as part of the province’s Mental Health Marathon Project to de-institutionalise mental health care services, was “rapid” and “chaotic”. He recommended the Project be stopped, officials involved be disciplined and all former Life Esidimeni patients be moved to appropriate and lawful facilities as a matter of urgency.
He gave the department 45 days to move patients to suitable facilities – a deadline which has since been extended to the end of April 2017. A total of 592 patients have been moved out of the NGOs while just over 200 have yet to be transferred.
The report says Selby Park Hospital is catering for the majority of the newly moved patients with the remainder being cared for at Life Baneng Care Centre in Roodepoort. According to the MEC, the 200-plus patients still at unlawful NGOs will be moved to Waverly Care Centre in Pretoria “starting from tomorrow”. The remaining former Life Esidimeni patients are either in hospital or in the care of their families.
The report says the Ombudsman’s report recommended former Gauteng Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu’s suitability to hold her position be investigated but she resigned the day before the report’s publication. Asked whether there will be any further action taken against Mahlangu for her role in the debacle, to hold her accountable, Ramokgopa said: “We do not have the instruments to deal with that.” She said it is a process outside of the department’s control, as she has already resigned from her position.
The report says actions against other high-ranking officials within the department have started. A disciplinary hearing for the Head of Department Dr Tiego Selebano, accused of tampering with evidence during the Ombudsman’s investigation among other things, was set to take place in March but has been postponed to give him time “to make representations to the Health Ombudsman”.
Ramogkopa said action against the head of mental health in the province Dr Makgabo Manamela has been similarly stalled. She said some families have been “anxious” about their loved ones being moved yet again but she and her officials have been consulting with them and taking them to view the new sites “to weigh up what is in the best interests of each patient”.
Ramakgopa says more than 200 psychiatric patients remain in the care of unlicensed NGOs, reports Business Day. She said 529 patients had been moved to Selby Clinic and Life Baneng Care Centre, while 210 had yet to be transferred to safe institutions.
“We have, over the past 79 days, been working very closely with the office of the minister of health, the premier of Gauteng and the families in the transfer of … patients to suitable facilities,” Ramokgopa said.
John Stephens, senior legal researcher at Section27, which represents some of the bereaved, said the families were in discussions about the alternative dispute resolution indicated in the ombudsman’s report.
The report says the disciplinary hearing of Gauteng health head of department Barney Selebano, who was placed on precautionary suspension after being named in the report, has yet to take place. Other officials implicated in the report were issued with notices of intention to suspend.