The Health Ombud's investigation into the deaths of 36 Gauteng psychiatric patients should have an early deadline and meanwhile the Health MEC should resign or be fired, the opposition Democratic Alliance has demanded.
According to Wilmot James, Democratic Alliance Shadow Minister of Health, the DA “welcomes Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi’s request for the health ombudsman to investigate the deaths of 36 psychiatric patients in Gauteng after they were transferred from the Life Healthcare Esidimeni Hospital in Randfontein earlier this year.
“We join our colleague, DA MPL, Jack Bloom, in insisting that the Gauteng Health MEC, Qedani Mahlangu, resign or be fired. It is unacceptable that she remains in her position after this horrendous incident.
“The DA will write to Minister Motsoaledi and request that he set a clear deadline for the report. It should be ready by the end of November so that the families of those who lost loved ones can have closure as soon as possible.
“I will also insist that the terms of reference of this inquiry be made public so that they can be subjected to close scrutiny.
“The sad reality is that the situation is not just limited to Gauteng. This is a serious issue in many places across South Africa which needs to be dealt with as a matter of urgency.
“To this end, the DA will be conducting a nation-wide probe into the treatment of psychiatric patients, by submitting written questions in Parliament and writing to relevant bodies. These questions will include: Are patients’ drug regiments being adhered to timeously? Are patients’ conditions being assessed regularly? Are facilities being assessed as safe for patients? Do facilities have resources for safe patient seclusion and sedation? Are patient discharge care plans being carefully formulated and properly adhered to?
“The 36 patients died after the Gauteng Health Department transferred them into the care of NGO’s after ending its contract with the hospital. The role played by these ‘NGO’s’ must also be investigated, and it must be determined if similar instances are happening across the country. The DA will therefore also submit the following questions: What due diligence was done on the receiving NGOs? Why was there not early or immediate intervention when it became clear that the patients’ lives were at risk? What are the clinical competencies of staff employed at these “NGO’s” and are they appropriate to deal with the psychopathology presented by the patients?
“The fact of the matter is that psychiatric patients in this country are being under-served and their families unsupported. This needs to come to an end.
“The DA will use the mechanisms available to it in Parliament to assess the extent of this problem across the country, so that every step can be taken to prevent these horrific deaths from happening again.
Blaming Mahlangu for the crisis Bloom said: “She persisted in cancelling the long-running contract with Life Healthcare earlier this year despite warnings that more time was needed to find suitable alternative facilities.”
Bloom also said that Gauteng premier David Makhura’s professed commitment to accountability cannot be taken seriously until he fires Mahlangu‚" reports Business Day.
The member of the provincial legislature said it had been six days since Mahlangu disclosed "in an oral reply to my questions" that "36 psychiatric patients had died in unsuitable non-governmental organisations where they were sent after the cancellation of the contract with Life Healthcare Esidimeni".
"Mahlangu bears the prime responsibility for the deaths as she stubbornly persisted with a rushed transfer of patients to NGOs, despite many warnings that they did not have the capacity to look after them‚" Bloom said.
He said he was launching a "Mahlangu monitor"‚ which "can be found at #MahlanguMustGo … and will be updated every day on my @JackBloomDA Twitter account".
"Every day that Mahlangu remains in office is an insult to those who died and their relatives who expect justice and accountability in this matter."
The Citizen quotes Bloom as saying that Mahlangu said NGOs would accommodate 591 patients and 1,193 patients would be placed 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.
“The promised refurbishment of TMI, Pinnar and Old Germiston Hospital did not happen, and 1,002 patients were placed with NGOs, which was far higher than the number originally announced,” said Bloom. “Despite protests and complaints by relatives about the poor facilities at many NGOs, Mahlangu claimed that they had been properly vetted and were monitored to ensure good care.”
The report quotes Mahlangu as saying earlier that she could not link the deaths of the patients to their move to other facilities, and her department was investigating the matter. She said health records of patients had been requested from Lifehealthcare Esidimeni as part of the probe. However, Bloom responded saying: “Her disclosure that patients were sent to NGOs without clinical files that included their medical histories shows how reckless these transfers were in putting patients at risk.”
The DA MPL said it was only after he asked an official question in the Gauteng Legislature that Mahlangu “revealed the bombshell news that 36 patients had died in the NGOs in a period of about four months”.
“My view is that nearly all the 36 patients that have died in the last four months would probably still be alive if they were kept at Lifehealthcare Esidimeni.
“The ultimate blame falls on MEC Mahlangu who failed to take sufficient steps to ensure the orderly transfer of patients to reputable NGOs. She should resign or be fired by Premier David Makhura.”
Also welcoming the investigation is the Select Committee on Social Services. It said: “The Committee conveys its heartfelt condolences to the families of the 36 patients that have passed on.
‘While the Committee is cognisant of the need to find alternative measures to care for patients, these measures should have been made with the clear understanding and guarantees that the care of patients will not deteriorate. Every decision that is made must have as its central pillar the delivery of quality care for our people,’ said Cathy Dlamini, the chair of the Committee.
“The Committee urges the Office of the Health Ombud to speed up the investigation to prevent any further loss of life. The Committee will engage the Department of Health, both at national and provincial level in efforts aimed at ensuring quality care for all patients.”
Health-e News reports that according to Professor Chris Lund from the Alan J Flisher Centre for Public Mental Health the “deaths of so many patients need to be accounted for and any sign of negligence by any of the NGOs or the Gauteng Department of Health needs to be addressed urgently”.
He called on both the Gauteng and National Health Departments to take these deaths seriously “and to take immediate action to confirm the proper care of the remaining transferred patients”.DA material Full Business Day report Full report in The Citizen Select Committee on Social Services material Health-e News material