Court rules in favour of health dept discharging 54 mentally ill patients

2016-03-15 17:53

Johannesburg  The High Court in Johannesburg on Tuesday dismissed an urgent application trying to prevent the Gauteng health department from discharging 54 patients from Life Esidimeni hospital which houses about 2 000 mental health patients.

"The court agreed with the department that it has not reneged on an agreement reached with Sadag and other organisations in December 2015," said department spokesperson, Steve Mabona.

"And as such the department should continue with its plans to discharge and place those who still need medical care to different facilities."

The SA Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag), the SA Federation for Mental Health and the SA Society for Psychiatrists had jointly brought the urgent application before the High Court on Monday.

Sadag director, Cassey Chambers, said at the time that the reason for the application was because the organisations had been made aware that 54 patients had been earmarked to be moved to the Takalani Home for the Mentally Handicapped in Diepkloof, Soweto.

Clinical and mental disabilities

They were concerned about the move because as the group of 54 comprised adult patients with profound clinical and mental disabilities, including cerebral palsy and schizophrenia, who needed specialised treatment and care.

The organisations had also received proof that the NGO the group was being moved to was a children's facility.

Chambers said the department had also not yet completed its assessment of the other NGOs it intended sending the rest of the patients to. This report would only be due by the end of March, Chambers said.

She said the patients were also yet to be profiled and their families yet to be consulted on whether they were capable of taking them in or not.

The department and the hospital had reached a settlement agreement in December last year to terminate its contract with the hospital group, which served more than 2 000 patients aged between 24 and 101.

The hospital, which was based in Randfontein on the West Rand, provided in-patient care, treatment, and rehabilitation for people with chronic psychiatric disorders and severe intellectual disabilities.

On Tuesday, the department denied claims by Chambers that it had kept affected parties in the dark about moving the patients to Takalani.

"The department has kept everyone concerned informed about plans to place patients at various NGOs as part of winding up services with Life Esidimeni, as the contract with the institution will be coming to an end on June 30 2016," Mabona said.

Clinical reasons

He said the decision to discharge the patients was made by doctors, based on clinical reasons.

"A concern raised by Sadag that Takalani Home caters for children was not accepted by the court, since the department made it clear that children will be separated from adults and placed accordingly," he added.

Although the court's decision was disappointing, Chambers told News24 on Tuesday that the organisations would continue to fight for the rights of the patients.

"We will continue to monitor the situation and ensure that we act in the best interests of the patient.

"This is all part of an ongoing project which sees many more patients being placed at various facilities. It is our responsibility to ensure those patients are given the same or better level of care."

MEC Qedani Mahlangu welcomed the court's decision but promised to continue liaising with the affected stakeholders to ensure no patient would be neglected or thrown out on to the streets as result of the contract termination.

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