Bernard Ngoepe. Picture: RUSSELL ROBERTS
Bernard Ngoepe. Picture: RUSSELL ROBERTS

Tribunal judge Bernard Ngoepe has overturned the health ombudsman’s finding that patients died in "unlawful circumstances" at two NGOs, Masego and Takalani.

This is the first ruling to contradict findings by health ombudsman Malegapuru Makgoba on the Life Esidimeni saga, in which more than 141 patients died after being moved to NGOs.

The ruling also mentions that the Gauteng health department has for years been transferring patients to NGOs.

It also says it is undisputed that Life Healthcare held back medical records of patients from new homes‚ which Life Healthcare denies.

The Masego home for the elderly in Krugersdorp and the Takalani home for disadvantaged children in Soweto had appealed Makgoba’s findings.

Ngoepe said there was a lack of proof as to how patients had died.

"The transfer of patients was rushed and indeed described as chaotic. There are no postmortem reports. It is true that the environments were not ideal. But on the basis of the Ombudsman’s report‚ it is not possible to conclusively say what the cause of the deaths was‚" the ruling said.

One of Ngoepe’s reasons for refusing to blame NGOs for deaths is that Life Healthcare‚ which runs Life Esidimeni homes‚ "held back the medical records of the patients"‚ which he suggested was because the Gauteng health department owed Life Healthcare money.

"It is also a valid concern for us that Esidimeni failed to provide the clinical and other data in their possession about their patients’ health‚ disease and therapy."

The ombudsman spoke of Freddie Collitz‚ who had shoelaces holding up his trousers because he was so thin‚ according to a family member.

Mariana Jamnik-Schmidt‚ whose brother died at Masego‚ had a postmortem done and she told TimesLIVE it noted how thin he was and that his stomach had contained no food at death.

Ngoepe did not set aside the finding that at all NGOs‚ including Masego and Takalani‚ there was a "lack of proper care", as the NGOs had failed to defend themselves against that allegation.

Ngoepe mentions the deaths at Esidimeni homes that had up to 2‚000 patients.

"While there is little disagreement that the sheer scale of deaths in the NGOs and other health facilities is unconscionable‚ there were also a number of deaths during the Esidimeni period."

His report also suggests that the Gauteng health department has been placing patients in NGOs for years.

"It is worth noting that they have been ‘deinstitutionalising’ thousands of patients from organisations like Esidimeni. The overall project is rightly known as The Deinstitutionalising Project‚ wherein patients were discharged daily during their routine care."

Last week‚ health director-general Precious Matsoso testified that many NGOs looking after people "were not suitable".

There are 5‚000 patients in Gauteng NGOs‚ it emerged.

South African Depression and Anxiety Group spokesman Cassey Chambers said: "We had many complaints about care at Masego home. Now that all the Life Esidimeni patients have been moved‚ who is checking on the patients left behind?"

Life Esidimeni MD Puseletso Jaure said Life Esidimeni would not comment‚ due to the correct arbitration process‚ except to say: "At no stage has Life Esidimeni refused to provide information."

The ombudsman will not comment on the tribunal.

The Gauteng health department referred the question about placing patients in NGOs for years to the premier’s office.

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