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Section 27 – Life Esidimeni and The Premier of Gauteng

Dear friends,

For those of you who didn’t hear or read it yesterday, below is an extract from the opening of the Gauteng Premier’s State of the Province address:

Please join me in acknowledging the presence of members of the Family Committee representing the bereaved families of the Life Esidimeni tragedy in which more than a hundred mental health patients lost their lives.

Madame Speaker, we have been working very closely with the Family Committee as we implement the remedial action outlined by the Health Ombud, Professor Malegapuru Makgoba, in his report released on 1 February 2017.

On Saturday 18th February, we held a Healing Ceremony at the Freedom Park, at the request of the bereaved and affected families. At the Healing Ceremony families made an impassioned plea that as we mourn the tragic death of the mental health patients and take decisive corrective action, politicians and political parties must be advised not to use this tragedy as a political football because this prolongs their pain and anguish.  I hereby appeal to this House to honour the wishes of the families.  This is my humble appeal.

As we implement the recommendations of the Health Ombud Report, every step we take will be guided by the wishes of the families and the advice of the panel of sixty experts appointed by the Minister of Health, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi.

The pace at which we move in implementing all the recommendations of the Health Ombud is determined strictly by the wishes of the families and the advice and opinions of experts. We are also collaborating with civil society in this process.

As the Premier of this province, I have publicly stated my deep regret and profuse apology for the tragic death of so many of our vulnerable citizens who were under the care of the Gauteng Department of Health.

I want to reiterate the commitment I made to the families on Saturday: I will spend the remainder of my term over the next two years, to ensure that there is restorative justice and healing for the families and take every executive action possible to restore confidence in our public health system.

I would like to state categorically that the decision to transfer Life Esidimeni mental health patients to NGOs was not made in consultation with the Provincial Executive Council.  The Executive Council and I would have never approved a plan to outsource mental health, a primary responsibility of the state to care for the vulnerable in society, to NGOs. What is even worse is the fact that such NGOs didn’t meet appropriate standards and legal prescripts.

The Provincial Department of Health had repeatedly reported that, as a result of the new hospitals and community health centres, they had enough beds in public health facilities that could accommodate public patients from private health facilities such as Selby Hospital and Life Esidimeni centres.

As the Provincial Executive Council, we do not interfere in the appointment or retention of service providers by various departments, in strict observance of the laws of our land.  We dare not be found on the wrong side of the law.

I have always emphasised to all MECs and HODs reviewing contracts with any service provider must never compromise service delivery, especially the most vulnerable groups which depend entirely on the state for the well-being. Cost considerations can never override the imperative of the quality of care.

It is common cause that the ill-fated transfer of patients to the NGOs compromised the wellbeing of mental health patients. At the very least, the Department should have placed all patients in public health facilities or retained the services of private facilities in case there was no sufficient space in the public sector. As the Head of Government, I am deeply aggrieved by the extent to which those responsible for this tragic and ill-fated transfer of patients to unlawfully operating NGOs, have tried to hide the facts from me, the Minister of Health and the Health Ombud.

Together with the Minister of Health and the newly-appointed health MEC, Dr Gwen Ramokgopa, we are taking swift action to implement all the recommendations of the Health Ombud, the most urgent which is to relocate the mental health patients to appropriate facilities. We will provide regular updates to the Legislature, the Health Ombud and the public on the progress.

We are also working very closely with the families to deal with all the issues in the Health Ombud Report. On Saturday, we hosted a Healing Ceremony for the affected families and this was a heart-rending moment for all of us. We will erect Memorial Stones at the Freedom Park in honour of all those who passed on.

Learning from this tragic death of mental health patients, I have decided to institute a wide-ranging inspection and condition assessment of all centres that care for the most vulnerable – the elderly, people with disabilities and children – whether they are operated by the public, private or NGO sectors.

It is our responsibility as the state to care for the weak. Every institution that provides services to the most vulnerable must meet appropriate standards. We cannot wait for another tragedy before we take wide-ranging action.  The Life Esidimeni tragedy must spur us into action over the next two years to restore the dignity and human rights of mental health patients and all vulnerable groups in our communities.  I am determined to lead this mission over the next two years of my term of office as the Premier of this province.  I will appoint the Premier’s Mental Health Advisory Panel to assist in this mission.

Clearly, this is a moment we should seize in the manner suggested by Crick and others. SECTION27 is ready to give any assistance we can to your endeavours and under your leadership as experts in this field of health care and human right

Mark Haywood

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