The patients were among many who were discharged into the care of various NGOs between March and June this year.
This week the health department was summoned to parliament to account and announced that Minister Aaron Motsoaledi had called for an investigation by the office of the Health Ombud.
Chairperson of the select committee on social services Cathy Dlamini urged the ombud to speed up the investigation to prevent any further loss of life.
“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 Dlamini.
The department of health terminated its agreement with Life Esidimeni earlier this year as it has been alleged it couldn’t afford to pay for the services.
It has been estimated that it cost the department over R11,000 a month to treat a patient; which added up to almost R324 million a year.
Virginia Gwen Machpelah died at Precious Angels Home Atteridgeville in August. Her sister Christine Nxumalo is still looking for answers from the police.
Social justice SECTION27, acting on her behalf, the South African Depression and Anxiety Group, the South African Society of Psychiatrists and the South African Federation for Mental Health have demanded that police investigate.
In a letter, the organisations demanded that the police provide a written undertaking by close of business yesterday [Friday] to initiate the inquests into the deaths, and the deaths of all other former residents of Life Esidimeni, in line with their legal obligations.
“The deaths of at least 36 people at NGOs over such a short period of time should prompt urgent action to protect all the other the vulnerable mental healthcare users forced into dangerous conditions,” SECTION27 said.
“The Department’s decision has also resulted in a public health disaster as tertiary institutes such as Sterkfontein Hospital, which were already overcrowded, are now inundated with users in need of long term care.
“The mental health care system is reeling under the shock of this decision and vulnerable users are suffering and dying as a result,” it said.
The Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference Justice and Peace Commission said the fact that it came down to money highlighted that healthcare costs had to be dealt with.
“We reiterate our position that a health system that puts profit before people, and without adequate measures for cost control, is both unsustainable for the country and a death sentence to the poor.
“We also find it morally unacceptable that patients were transferred without their clinical files and
some families were not informed of where their relatives would be transferred.”