Latest report from Health ombudsman Professor Malegapuru Makgoba says death toll of mentally ill patients who were transferred from Life Esidimeni to 27 NGOs is still on the riseand has exceeded 100.
Makgoba told Parliament’s portfolio committee on health on Wednesday that his office has been receiving more data from members of the public on deaths of the mentally ill patients since his report was published on February 1.
The professor joined Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi and his team in briefing Parliament’s portfolio and select committees on Health, saying the death toll of 94 he announced earlier this month has gone higher than expected and would not end.
“It was quite clear to me that the 94 deaths was not going to be the end,” he said, saying it was noted as a provisional figure at the time of the report.
“I can say to this committee that we are still collating more data that is coming in of deaths. I am quite confident that the figure is now above 100 deaths as we speak,” Makgoba added as he painted a bleak picture of the 27 NGOs where the patients were transferred, all of which were underresourced, underfinanced and underprepared to take on the influx of mentally ill patients.
The deaths of the psychologically derailed patients have generated lots of controversies in the country’s health sector, especially in Gauteng as investigations continue on what actually caused the death.
Describing the scarily easy process in receiving a licence from the Gauteng health department to start an NGO, Malegapuru Makgoba said when the director and head of department found that the licenses were not correct, they went around and signed new licences.
“So some NGOs now have three licences, signed in the same year by the same two people,” he said, adding that the data he received from the Gauteng health department was “full of problems” and “never the same”.
“In one instance, 22 patients were recorded as having two dates of death. Now, you can’t die twice. And the data always came from the same department.
“Really, it was like a form of a scam, and you really would not be proud if you are a South African,” Makgoba noted adding that 80 of the 94 deaths occurred at only five NGOs.
He further accused the NGOs of waiting too late to seek professional help, only searching once patients started dying.
The biggest problem was overcrowding, which defeated the purpose of Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi’s policy to de-institutionalise.
Some of the NGOs were mere double-storey houses, and the owners were approached to set up an NGO. They were under the impression it was a “business venture”, and not a professional health service.
The whole project was shambolic, chaotic, and the public should be wary of blaming Life Esidimeni for the deaths, he said as he listed human rights violations in his report.
This issue, according to Makgoba is now beyond the province, it is now a national issue and government needs to look at how patients went from a licensed institution to unlicensed ones. He also said the licensing policy needs to be reviewed.
Meanwhile, the Democratic Alliance has accused the ruling African National Congress of denying citizens their right to quality heath care as it failed to hold a moment of silence for the 94 South Africans who died in its care.
Describing the act by the parliament as undemocratic, and unsympathetic, the DA noted how Ombudsman, Malegapuru Makgoba, fingered former Gauteng MEC, Qedani Mahlangu, and senior officials in the province.
“There can be no conclusion other than that this government lacks the judgment and ability to intervene in matters of life and death even when confronted with water-tight information.
“This government does not govern. It is paralysed, dysfunctional and uncaring,” said the party, relating the country’s health situation to that of the former Soviet Union and today’s Cuba which according to the party leader, is a country which does not specialise in the treatment of HIV and tuberculosis- which are our country’s biggest health burdens.