Qedani Mahlangu. Picture: THE TIMES
Qedani Mahlangu. Picture: THE TIMES

Former Gauteng health MEC Qedani Mahlangu faces a class action lawsuit by the families of 94 psychiatric patients who died in appalling conditions in the care of unlicensed NGOs.

Health ombudsman Malegapuru Makgoba’s report into the scandal, which has shocked the country, found that Mahlangu’s cost-cutting exercise to move the patients from Life Esidimeni had been expensive and deadly.

Only one patient died from mental illness-related causes, while the others died of dehydration, starvation, diarrhoea and epilepsy.

Opposition parties on Wednesday called for Mahlangu and Premier David Makhura to be charged for the patients’ "massacre", because it had been as a result of "their incompetence".

Makgoba has recommended legal action in a report hailed as unprecedented in naming and shaming officials.

Mahlangu resigned on Tuesday night before the report was made public on Wednesday.

She will be replaced by the former deputy minister of health Gwen Ramokgopa.

Between March 23 2016 and December 19 2016, 2,000 psychiatric patients were moved from Esidimeni to 27 NGOs and hospitals, many of them without their families’ knowledge.

A total of 94 patients died in the care of 16 of the 27 NGOs.

Lucas Mogwerane, whose relative was among the dead, said the government should account for the loss of lives.

"The MEC’s resignation, should not be the end of the road. We are looking at all options, our partners will advise. But law enforcement should take place," he said.

The Office of the Health Ombudsman is empowered to investigate the public and private healthcare sectors, but it is up to the minister of health to implement its findings.

This is the health ombudsman’s first report.

Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said on Wednesday, at the report’s presentation in Pretoria, that the office was meant to be the "public protector" of health.

Although the DA and EFF called for Makhura’s resignation, the Gauteng premier, who was also in Pretoria when the report was made public, said the report did not recommend this. "If I was responsible, I would have resigned long before the report was completed," he said.

The health ombudsman’s report found that it had cost the Gauteng government R320 per patient a day at Life Esidimeni.

But the province forked out between R1,300 and R2,000 at Weskoppies and Sterkfontein hospitals.

The report said the 27 NGOs did not have the necessary licences to offer adequate, specialised care for the patients they took in. Their staff, the report stated, were also unqualified.

Makgoba has ordered that the remaining psychiatric patients be transferred back to public healthcare facilities.

Section 27 executive director Mark Heywood, who works with the affected families and the South African Mental Health Federation, said some of the families felt partial closure, but many felt justice still needed to be done. He hailed the report as unprecedented because it was the first time in SA that a report linked officials to "a crime".

He said Section 27 would continue to push for inquests into the deaths, while awaiting instruction from those affected on how to proceed legally.

Christine Nxumalo — whose sister died at the Precious Angels NGO — was furious about Mahlangu’s resignation, describing it as a "cowardly act".

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