The DA on Thursday called on the Gauteng MEC for health to “resign or be fired” for the deaths of 36 psychiatric patients after they were discharged from Lifehealthcare Esidimeni.
The deceased were part of some 2 000 psychiatric patients transferred to other facilities after the provincial health department cancelled its long-running contract with Lifehealthcare Esidimeni, which provides long-term specialised care.
“Gauteng Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu should resign over the deaths of 36 psychiatric patients at the unsuitable NGOs (nongovernmental organisations) in which they were placed after being discharged from Lifehealthcare Esidimeni,” said Jack Bloom of DA Gauteng.
For more than 40 years the private facility has provided long-term chronic mental healthcare to thousands of patients in Gauteng under contract from the provincial government.
Last year in October, Mahlangu announced that the contract with Lifehealthcare Esidimeni had become unaffordable. As a result the contract was cancelled, and the private facilities closed on March 31.
At the time, the health MEC said in 2014/15 the province spent R323 million to treat 2 378 patients at the private facilities.
“The department cannot afford this,” said Mahlangu, adding the move would facilitate community care, human dignity and community integration.
On Thursday Bloom blamed the health MEC for the crisis.
“She persisted in cancelling the long-running contract with Lifehealthcare earlier this year despite warnings that more time was needed to find suitable alternative facilities,” said Bloom.
Bloom said 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.”
On Wednesday, Mahlangu said 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 on Tuesday “revealed the bombshell news that 36 patients had died in the NGOs in a period of about four months”.
The unfolding crisis has attracted the attention of the national health department who has asked the health ombudsman to look into the matter.
“I welcome the announcement by national Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi that the health ombudsman will investigate the deaths at the NGOs. This investigation needs to be done speedily and professionally to ensure than no evidence is lost,” said Bloom.
“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.”
– African News Agency (ANA)