The horrible experience of the death of mentally ill patients should not be repeated, says newly appointed Gauteng Health MEC Gwen Ramokgopa.
In her maiden speech at the Gauteng Legislature on Thursday, Ramokgopa announced that extraordinary measures would be put in place to ensure there was rigorous and regular assessment of legal compliance and guidelines aimed at protecting patients.
“We must ask ourselves very difficult questions as a country, that how was it possible that the constitution of our land, the National Health Act, the Health Professions Act, as well as the plethora of policies and preventions all failed the most vulnerable?
“I have visited the facilities involved, including the mortuary, and met with senior management in the department to reflect on this tragedy and recommit to support the affected families.”
Ramokgopa announced plans to reconstitute the mental health service to ensure it works within policies and professional ethics.
This follows the tragic deaths of almost 100 mentally ill patients who were transferred to unlicensed NGOs after the cancellation of a government contract with Life Esidimeni last year.
Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi asked the health ombudsman, Malegapuru Makgoba, to investigate the deaths. Former health MEC Qedani Mahlangu resigned following the report.
Opposition parties came out with guns blazing on Thursday during the debate of Gauteng Premier David Makhura’s State of the Province address.
ANC MPLs howled: “This speech is boring, you are celebrating,” as MPLs from the main opposition parties – the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and the Democratic Alliance (DA) took to the podium to debate the debacle.
EFF caucus leader Mandisa Mashego labelled Makhura a “liar” and “dishonest”.
“People have died, it will never end in our minds and our hearts. The ANC government took for granted the lives of black people, yet again resulting in … painful deaths.”
Mashego said the EFF did not accept Makhura’s explanation that the decision to move the patients was done without his knowledge.
“How can the premier not have known about the looming crisis of patients at Life Esidimeni when civil organisations raised the issue with him several times? The premier takes credit for the good work done by his administration; he must equally take responsibility for the deaths caused by his government.”
DA Gauteng leader John Moodey had Makhura firmly in his cross-hairs. He called on Makhura to step down, warning: “If he fails to take this honourable step, we will be embarking upon a process of putting forth a motion of no confidence in his premiership.”
The DA’s Jack Bloom was equally harsh against Makhura, saying he had presided over the largest medical disaster in this country, apart from HIV/Aids, since 1994.
“It is an indelible stain on your premiership. This is what people will remember you for.”
Bloom said Makhura’s failure to fire Mahlangu missed the opportunity to show that the ANC in Gauteng was genuinely different from the ANC that refuses to hold President Jacob Zuma to account, and others who get away with outrageous things.
“Your excuses are very thin. If you were really honourable you would not claim inexcusable ignorance,” said Bloom.
ANC chief whip in the Gauteng Legislature Brian Hlongwa objected to the DA’s Mike Moriarty calling the deaths of the psychiatric patients a “massacre”.
“As we recognise this tragic event that has happened in our country we do so against the backdrop when, 100 years ago, over 800 of African origin died in the sinking of the SS Mendi.”
Makhura will respond to the debate on Friday.