Tower Hospital psychiatrist won’t appeal Ombud’s findings

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Psychiatrist Dr Kiran Sukeri‚ who the Health Ombudsman accused of making false claims of ill-treatment of patients at the Tower Psychiatric Hospital in the Eastern Cape‚ has decided not to appeal the ombud’s findings against him. “After careful consideration I have made the decision not to lodge an appeal‚ specifically in relation to those aspects of the ombudsman’s report I disagree with or with which I am aggrieved‚ since I do not believe that this will lead to any substantive or constructive ends at this juncture‚” Sukeri is quoted in The Times as saying.

He had taken to the media to blow the whistle on the facility where he was employed as a psychiatrist. He had described the situation as another Life Esidimeni‚ comparing it with the tragedy which played out in Gauteng where more than 140 mentally ill patients died after being moved from the government facility to some ill-equipped non-government organisations.

The report says after investigating Sukeri’s claims‚ ombud Professor Malegapuru Makgoba released a report where he alleged that Sukeri had made the false claims following a power struggle with the CEO of the hospital he was employed by. He questioned his professionalism for releasing some crucial information on patients to the media and added that his track record was less than desirable.

“Dr Sukeri’s 11 discharged users were not coping well in the community‚ some with relapses and re-admissions. One user was reported missing‚ two users had passed away‚ one user had committed suicide and one user committed murder and has since been arrested‚” Makgobo said at the time.

The report says responding to this‚ Sukeri said he was “deeply disappointed and saddened by Makgoba’s attack on his professional integrity”. “To be clear‚ my decision to shed light on what was happening at Tower Hospital was not motivated by self-interest but rather by my deep concern for the patients at Tower Hospital and for mental health care patients in general‚” Sukeri added.

He said he was happy that several changes had been made to the province mental health care since his complaint. “I therefore continue to believe that my decision to speak out against the deficiencies at both Tower Hospital and within the Eastern Cape Department of Health was correct. I am further encouraged by the ongoing support received from colleagues‚ co-workers‚ NGOs‚ professional bodies and the public in general‚” Sukeri is quoted in the report as saying.

Among Sukeri’s claims were damning allegations that about 90 patients had died at the Port Elizabeth hospital but when his allegations were probed‚ he said he had “miscalculated the death statistics”‚ labelling this as a “serious mistake”. The psychiatrist had also said patients were not fed proper meals and did not have proper clothing. Makgoba‚ however‚ said the only thing that patients had complained about was the portions of food they received.

The report says commenting on Sukeri’s allegations‚ Makgoba said: “The incidents at Tower Hospital is no ‘Life Esidimeni’.” Over an eight-year period at the Tower Hospital‚ a total of 68 mental health patients had died. The hospital caters for 400 patients.
None of the deaths was as a result of negligence by the hospital.

Makgoba said during his investigations into the claims‚ Sukeri had admitted that he had “lost his cool” and had approached the media to exaggerate his complaint after having clashed with the CEO of the hospital. “He said he had no longer cared and was aware he had violated his oath‚” Makgoba added.

Makgoba has since called for disciplinary action to be taken against Sukeri‚ adding that while he no longer practised at the hospital‚ he continued to run a private practice. “He has irretrievably broken all his trust with his colleagues‚” Makgoba added. “This blew a simple complaint into a national issue which it should not have been.”

The Times report

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