A damning report by health ombudsman, Professor Malegapuru Makgoba revealed yesterday that 94 mentally ill patients died while under government care. This is 61 more than the originally stated 36 deaths. Gauteng provincial health minister (MEC) Qedani Mahlangu resigned in the wake of the disastrous relocation of patients from Life Esidimeni Hospital to cheaper places of care.
The travesty of the report goes further to lay shame on the appalling circumstance with which this matter was handled. At the time of the minister’s public statements on 13th September 2016 of that there had been 36 deaths, in reality 77 patients had already died. The deaths occurred between May and September 2016. Furthermore, it shows that the 27 NGOs to which the patients were moved had invalid licenses issued by the Department. 94 of these deaths occurred at NGOs while another three deaths occurred at hospitals. It must be noted that 81 of these deaths were patients from Life Esidimeni.
This extract shows the worst of the NGO facilities “75 (79.78%) patients died from 5 NGO complexes (Precious Angels 20, CCRC/Siyabadinga/Anchor 25, Mosego/Takalani 15, Tshepong 10 and Hephzibah 5).“
The tragedy grows grimmer as the circumstances of these deaths can only be described as inhumane. Only 1 patient died from natural causes due to their mental illness. Many these patients died from pneumonia, dehydration and diarrhoea in the hastened movement to care facilities. Showing an utter disregard for their well-being and care. Many of these patients were collected and moved in bakkies in the hast. The tales of woe from the families about the conditions in which their loved ones were kept under has been likened to concentration camps, including malnutrition and underweight.
The relocation of these patients was a cost cutting and saving measure for the department that went ahead despite many warnings and appeals from civil society and experts. The facilities to which patients were transferred were ill-equipped, under-staffed, untrained or unfit to provide care. The report notes that facilities could not distinguish between making money (profit) and a structured, non-stop care facility. Additionally, the patients were often moved without the families consent or knowledge and in many cases to facilities far from their families and communities.
The night before the report was released Gauteng minister of Health Qedani Mahlangu resigned from her position under the enormous weight of the report and public anger. This, however, is only the start of the battle for these patients and families. The number of deaths and findings is likely to grow as further investigations are done. Moreover civil legal ramifications are likely. At first this lost was likened the number of lives lost at Marikana miners massacre. However, this is three times the Marikana death toll to some of our society’s most vulnerable people.