Gauteng’s health department ‘was reckless’, say civil society groups
A GROUP of civil society groups has described the Gauteng health department’s transfer of psychiatric patients‚ during which 36 of them died‚ as a "reckless placement".
They penned an open letter to Gauteng health MEC Qedani Mahlangu in which they said it was a "violation of our constitutional dispensation which commits to protecting the most vulnerable members of our society".
The letter was signed by the Treatment Action Campaign‚ the South African Depression and Anxiety Group‚ the People’s Health Movement SA‚ Section 27‚ the Public Health Association of SA and the Junior Public Health Association of SA.
In the letter, the groups expressed their "condolences to the families of these 36 human beings who have died".
"Secondly‚ we regard this tragedy [as] entirely preventable and unnecessary. There is plenty of evidence from other countries and from previous experiences in SA that the deinstitutionalisation of long-term psychiatric patients into the community cannot be done in an unplanned fashion‚ without risking harm to these patients and their families.
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"Thirdly‚ it is a violation of our constitutional dispensation which commits to protecting the most vulnerable members of our society. In this case‚ our health system let down the former residents of the Life Esidimeni facilities abysmally.
"Fourthly‚ these deaths represent a violation of our country’s commitments under international human rights law. Having ratified both the International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the International Covenant on Economic‚ Social and Cultural Rights‚ SA has committed legally to respecting‚ protecting and fulfilling the obligations laid out in these instruments.
"We therefore stand in solidarity with other organisations and institutions in the outrage expressed towards this tragedy. The healthcare system has failed these people and their families through reckless placement into NGO [nongovernmental organisation] housing that appears to have been wholly inadequate."
National Minister of Health Dr Aaron Motsoaledi said earlier in September that he had asked the Health Ombudsman to investigate the deaths‚ while the DA’s Jack Bloom‚ said: "She [Mahlangu] should resign or be fired by premier David Makhura."
"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 Life Healthcare Esidimeni‚" Bloom said.
He said he welcomed the investigation‚ which "needs to be done speedily and professionally to ensure than no evidence is lost"‚ but insisted that Mahlangu was at fault.
"The ultimate blame falls on Mahlangu who failed to take sufficient steps to ensure the orderly transfer of patients to reputable NGOs."
She had‚ Bloom said‚ "persisted in cancelling the long-running contract with Life Healthcare earlier this year despite warnings that more time was needed to find suitable alternative facilities".
"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‚" he added.
"It was only after I asked an official question in the Gauteng legislature that she revealed the bombshell news that 36 patients had died in the NGOs in a period of about four months."