Gauteng Premier David Makhura on Monday told provincial MPLs that his executive team did not give the go-ahead for the transfer of mentally ill patients to the non-government organisations where more than 100 have since died.
“The decision to transfer patients from Life Esidimeni to NGOs was not made in consultation with the provincial executive council which I lead. The executive council and I would never have approved to outsource mental health, a primary responsibility of the state … we would have never supported the decision to outsource this to NGOs whether they would have been licensed or not,” said Makhura as he delivered the state of the province address (Sopa) in Randfontein, west of Johannesburg.
With the dark cloud of patients’ deaths hanging over the provincial government’s head, the MPLs began the sitting by observing a moment of silence for the late patients, whose deaths sent shockwaves through the country, forcing provincial health MEC Qedani Mahlangu to resign on the eve of the release of a damning report.
As the province implements the recommendations of Health Ombudsman Malegapuru Makgoba’s report, government would make sure that service delivery would never be compromised again. Those responsible for the transfer had tried to hide information from Makgoba and Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi, Makhura alleged.
“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 ombudman.”
Makhura and his officials, including newly appointed health MEC Gwen Ramokgopa, met with the bereaved families over the weekend for a healing ceremony in Pretoria. He announced that the provincial government would erect a monument to honour the deceased patients.
At the sessions, the families pleaded with politicians to not turn their relatives’ deaths into “a political football”, Makhura told the MPLs.
“They pleaded with us as politicians to not use this tragic matter for political mileage as this prolongs their pain. I hereby appeal to all of us to heed their plea.”
His government would ensure compliance and expertise at all centres that care for the vulnerable, he said.
“Learning from this tragic death of mental health patients, I have also decided to institute a wide-ranging inspection and 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.”
Democratic Alliance (DA) Gauteng health spokesman Jack Bloom said “there was no way” the provincial council never knew about the imminent transfer of the patients from Life Esidimeni.
“That is not true … public statements were made by the health MEC right from the beginning that they were to be transferred to NGOs. I think the premier has not been fully truthful about what he knew and when he knew it … we have called for him to resign and he has tried to make amends by saying he is implementing the health ombudsman’s recommendations, but really accountability needs something far more than that,” said Bloom.
Last week, Makgoba told MPs in Parliament that the number of patients who died had risen from an initial 94 to more than 100.
“We are above 100. I can’t say that is the end. From data that is coming one is quite confident that figure has gone above 100,” he said.