Cape Town – The death toll of the state mental patients who were transferred by the Gauteng health department from Life Esidimeni facilities to ill-equipped non-governmental organisations (NGO) now stands at more than 100 and is likely to climb, the health ombudsman told Parliament on Wednesday.
Health ombudsman Malegapuru Makgoba was asked by Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi to investigate the large number of deaths following the rapid transfer of more than 1,300 patients between March and October last year. When he published his findings on February 1, 94 patient deaths had been confirmed, but it was clear the true figure was higher, he said.
"We are still correlating, more data is coming in. We are above 100 deaths, but I can’t say that is the end. This figure still remains provisional," he told a joint sitting of Parliament’s portfolio committee on health and the national council of province’s standing committee on health.
Presenting his report to MPs, Makgoba said 80% of the deaths occurred among five of the 27 NGOs that received the patients. None of the NGOs had legal licences, and none were equipped with the requisite staff, training or infrastructure to care for the patients placed in their care. The decision to place state mental patients in such an environment was reckless and negligent — "There was a litany of human rights abuses," he said.
His report into the patient deaths shows many had spent decades in the care of Esidimeni and were discharged in a stable condition: some died within a matter of days after their transfer. It appears the move was driven, at least in part, by an attempt to save costs. The Gauteng health department paid Life Esidimeni R320 per patient per day, but just R100 per patient per day to NGOs.
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