Life Esidimeni deaths now above 100, will rise - health ombud

Cape Town - Health ombudsman Professor Malegapuru Makgoba says the death toll of mentally ill patients who were transferred from Life Esidimeni to 27 NGOs will continue to rise, and is now above 100.

Makgoba told Parliament's portfolio committee on health on Wednesday that his office is continuing to receive more and more data from members of the public since his report was published on February 1.

"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 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.

None of them had valid licences, he said.

He described the scarily easy process in receiving a licence from the Gauteng health department to start an NGO.

"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 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 said 80 of the 94 deaths occurred at only five NGOs.

He said the NGOs waited 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.

He said the whole project was shambolic, chaotic, and he also listed human rights violations in his report. The national department could have been involved sooner.

He also said the public should be wary of blaming Life Esidimeni for the deaths.

He said it is now a state issue, and the state needs to look at how patients went from a licensed institution to unlicensed ones. He also said the licensing policy needs to be reviewed.

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