A recent report by the Health Ombudsman Professor Malegapuru Makogba on the death of over 100 psychiatric patients has led to calls for former Public Protector, Thuli Madonsela to lead the process for an Alternative Dispute Resolution.

The deaths of more than 100 psychiatric patients in Gauteng Province, in South Africa has caused a public outrage. The patients were in The Life Healthcare Esidemini Centre and were transferred to various Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) in a bid to save money.

The transfer of patients came despite litigation and public outcry from the South African Society of Psychiatrists (SASOP), South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG), the South Africa Federation for Mental Health (SA Fed) and families of Life Esidemini residents against the Department of Health, Gauteng.

These actions did not stop the MEC for Health in Gauteng, Qedani Mahlangu from terminating the contract between the Department of Health and Life Esidemini, where the patients were receiving highly-specialised chronic psychiatric care in October 2015. The transfer of around 2,000 patients continued and the process of discharging the various patients to various NGOs and hospitals took place between March and June last year.

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Between March and December last year, patients of Life Esidemini died, the number going to over 100. The Member of the Executive Council (MEC ) for Health in Gauteng, Qedani Mahlangu resigned before the report by health ombudsman Professor Malegapuru William Makgoba was released.

The report details how some of the mentally ill patients were transferred in open pick-ups. Most of the patients died due to lack of proper care, and malnourishment.

The report revealed that the facilities to which the patients were transferred to, 27 operated with invalid licenses. On the 13th of September last year, when the MEC made the public announcement of the 36 deaths, 77 patients had already died. At the time of writing the report, 94 patients had died in 16 of the 27 NGOs and 3 hospitals.

File picture: South African Public Protector, Thuli Madonsela, addresses the media including releasing her final investigations on her last day in the office of the Public Protector in Pretoria, South Africa, 14 October 2016. Photo: ANP/EPA

The report has sparked an outrage from the public. The report detailed how some of the mentally ill patients were transferred in open pick-ups. Most of the patients died due to lack of proper care, malnourishment, and some were transferred to NGOs in districts far away from their families. The report further stated that the process of transferring mentally ill patients from Life Esidemini into the NGOs was conducted in a rushed manner. Some of the patients were transferred multiple times and some were transferred without the knowledge of their families.

Some families are pressing for criminal charges based on the violation of the Constitution, Mental Health Care Act and National Health Care Act.

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The report says: “It is totally against the fundamental principle of health care practice to consciously remove a patient let alone a ‘frail and sickly’ patient from an environment of stable professional care to an insecure environment of less quality care or unpredictable and unprofessional care; this decision was made despite professional and expert advice and warnings”.

Some patients died from pneumonia, while others died from uncontrolled seizures and dehydration.

The South African President, Jacob Zuma has called for the immediate implementation of the recommendations of the report.