Health MEC Dodges Questions on Psychiatric Patients’ Release

Gauteng Health ‘should not arrogantly dismiss the concerns raised by relatives’ about the transfer of hundreds of psychiatric patients to non-governmental organisations (NGOs), said Democratic Alliance MP Dr Jack Bloom.

Business Day reports that Bloom said family members‚ Section 27 lawyers and the South African Depression and Anxiety Group were barred from a media briefing called by Gauteng Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu a day earlier, to allay those concerns. By doing so‚ said Bloom‚ “Mahlangu dodged the toughest questions” about the “591 long-term psychiatric patients formerly cared for by Life Healthcare Esidimeni“, who were to be placed in “NGOs and … a variety of state institutions and renovated facilities”.

“If she has nothing to hide‚ why were they not allowed to ask questions?” he asked.

Bloom said that “none of the promised renovations … occurred‚ and 1,002 patients were placed with 25 NGOs‚ almost double the number originally announced”. “Complaints have poured in about poor conditions at some of these NGOs‚ including poor medical attention and living conditions‚ and lack of food. It is clear that the transfer of patients from Life Healthcare to NGOs was botched in many instances‚” he added.

The report says Mahlangu has moved to dismiss reports that psychiatric patients had gone “missing” during the transfer. “There are no missing patients. All patients are accounted for. If there are‚ please give me the names‚” Mahlangu told journalists at the briefing at the Department of Health offices in Johannesburg.

The department ‚ Mahlangu said‚ was working with more than 120 NGOs to house mental-health patients around the province. “We strive to make sure that all mental-care users are afforded services in a humane and dignified manner in whatever we do. We took a decision to move away from the existing contract with Life and start treating patients closer to home‚” Mahlangu is quoted in the report as saying. “We also took a decision that we really need to find a way to make sure these mental-health services are rendered in a manner that will see us spreading the resources efficiently and giving the money back to the community that we serve – that is the mental-health patients.”

Mahlangu said the department gave Life Esidimeni notice to terminate their contract in September 2015. “Their bed capacity was 2,060 … From November we started managing the contract actively … We started referring patients far lesser to Life. At the beginning of April‚ we (had) only 1,476 at Life. There is no patient missing anywhere. All patients that were at Life were accounted for. We referred all those patients who are supposed to be at Life to different places‚” said Mahlangu in the report.

The relocation of patients‚ Mahlangu said‚ had allowed the department to “develop‚ resource and uplift community-based NGOs for a more inclusive approach to home-patient care”. “During this process we have refurbished Weskoppies‚ Sterkfontein and Cullinan psychiatric hospitals accordingly. We call upon all stakeholders to work with us in the best interest of patients. We are going to investigate the deaths at NGOs.”

SOURCE: Business Day report

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