Prof Malegapuru Makgoba. Picture: SUPPLIED
Prof Malegapuru Makgoba. Picture: SUPPLIED

On Thursday, health ombud Prof Malegapuru Makgoba poured cold water on allegations of patients being abused at the Tower Hospital in the Eastern Cape resulting in a high number of deaths‚ alleging that the senior psychiatrist at the hospital had fabricated the information.

"The incidents at Tower Hospital is no ‘Life Esidimeni’‚" Makgoba said.

Psychiatrist Dr Kiran Sukeri‚ employed at the Tower Psychiatric Hospital in Fort Beaufort‚ had gone to Rapport newspaper to claim that there were gross human rights violations at the hospital‚ alleging that a total of 90 patients had died at facility.

"They got it wrong on this matter‚" Makgoba said, who has conducted extensive investigations at the hospital and compiled a lengthy report in which he details that he had found no prima facie evidence of deliberate violation of patients at the hospital‚ with the exception of the hospital’s seclusion rooms.

Makgoba described the psychiatrist’s statements as damaging and false‚ adding that they amount to scientific fraud and scientific misconduct. "He fabricated the data entirely‚" Makgoba added.

Over an eight-year period at the Tower Hospital‚ a total of 68 mental health patients had died. The hospital caters for 400 patients. "This translates to about 8.5 deaths a year in a 400-bed hospital, but the media did not capture this and said 90 patients had died‚" said Makgoba.

None of the deaths was as a result of negligence by the hospital. Makgoba said during their investigations that Sukeri had admitted "he had lost his cool" and gone to the media to exaggerate his complaint after he had clashed in power struggles with the CEO of the hospital.

"He said he had no longer cared and was aware he had violated his oath‚" Makgoba added.

Poor track record

The track record of psychiatrist Sukeri is less than desirable‚ said Makgoba. The ombud said that during his time at the hospital‚ Sukeri had discharged patients without following protocols‚ such as ensuring their families were ready to receive them.

“Dr Sukeri’s 11 discharged [patients] were not coping well in the community‚ some with relapses and re-admissions. One was reported missing‚ two had passed away‚ one had committed suicide, and one committed murder and has since been arrested‚” said Makgobo.

He was giving a report back on Thursday after an investigation into claims of wrongdoing at the hospital. Makgobo said all of the cases raised questions on the quality of assessment undertaken and decisions taken by Sukeri.

He criticised the psychiatrist for violating patients’ confidentiality when he disclosed details about them to the media‚ alleging they were victims of shoddy practices at the hospital.

Makgoba has since called for disciplinary action to be instigated against the doctor‚ adding that while Sukeri was no longer practising at the hospital‚ he continued to run a private practice. "He has irretrievably broken all his trust with his colleagues."

The health ombud added that this is a false copy-cat phenomenon and created mass hysteria. "This blew a simple complaint into a national issue, which it should not have been."

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