Picture: istock
Picture: istock

About 700 healthcare workers lost their jobs after the Gauteng health department had terminated its contract with three Life Esidimeni facilities.

This was the testimony of Levy Mosenogi, chief director of planning, policy and research in the department, before the Life Esidimeni arbitration tribunal taking place in Johannesburg.

The hearings are being held to find out why more than 118 psychiatric patients had died and to give affected families closure and compensation.

Mosenogi testified on Tuesday that budget constraints and concern raised by the auditor-general that there were repeated renewals of the contract had been behind the scrapping of the contract with a private healthcare provider in 2015. The JSE-listed Life Healthcare is the second-largest private healthcare provider in SA with a R38bn market capitalisation.

Former Gauteng MEC for health Qedani Mahlangu ignored warnings about the risks of moving severely sick people into the care of nongovernmental organisations. The South African Society of Psychiatrists wrote five letters to Mahlangu, and appeals by relatives and civil society also fell on deaf ears.

Former deputy chief justice Dikgang Moseneke was at pains to find out why the Life Esidimeni contract had been cancelled and why moving so many sick people was rushed.

"What was the big pressure to do what you did?" asked Moseneke, given that the private healthcare provider had been taking care of state patients for the past 30 years.

"I don’t have an excuse why we had to hurry it. My initial thought was it should be done in phases," said Mosenogi.

Part of the urgency was due to the contract being cancelled by Mahlangu and Mosenogi was following her instructions, as well as those of then head of the Gauteng health department, Barney Selebano, who has since been suspended.

Mosenogi testified that 700 caregivers, including nurses and doctors, at Life Esidimeni facilities lost their jobs when Life Esidimeni was forced to close its doors in 2015.

Life Esidimeni disputed the figure. MD Pusuletso Juane said 225 employees had been absorbed by the Department of Health at various state hospitals and more than 50 were redeployed in new roles at other Life Esidimeni facilities. "During this process, standard human resources practices and policies were followed."

gumedem@businesslive.co.za

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