Gauteng health department 'wanted to create a crisis'

2017-11-13 20:25
A healing session for the families of the Life Esidimeni patients who died last year (Mpho Raborife, News24)

A healing session for the families of the Life Esidimeni patients who died last year (Mpho Raborife, News24)

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Johannesburg – The former president of the South African Society of Psychiatrists (SASOP) told the Life Esidimeni arbitration hearings that he believed the Gauteng department of health wanted to create an "infrastructure crisis".

Dr Mvuyiso Talatala was SASOP president when rumours started going around that the Gauteng department of health wanted to end its contract with Life Esidimeni.

He said on Monday that he had written to a number of officials, including the suspended head of the mental health review board Dr Makgabo Manamela, warning them about the potential consequences of their plan.

"In my view, they wanted to do away with Life Esidimeni and… they wanted to create an infrastructure crisis," he said.

Talatala said moving patients out of Life Esidimeni would have created the crisis and he believed it would have allowed the health department to spend money on other projects, to play catch up and create space for all the de-institutionalised patients.

Last week, the health ombudsman Dr Malegapuru Makgoba told the arbitration hearings that the number of patients who died during and after the move from Life Esidimeni to a number of unlicensed NGOs had risen to 143.

READ: Life Esidimeni death toll rises to 143

At the time of his report in February this year, he said it was 94 and counting, but the figure had been updated a number of times during the hearings.

‘We were being a nuisance’

Talatala said the letters raising various concerns went unanswered.

These concerns included a failure to properly consider the severity of the illness of the patients at Life Esidimeni and what care they received, the level of care at Life Esidimeni versus what they were likely to get at the NGOs, and the fact that there was already a shortage of beds for patients.

"We never got a letter back from any of the people we wrote to,” he said.

"The department had already made up its mind that it was going to close those facilities… and we were being a nuisance."

"Our idea was to look after the interests of the patients and their mental health," he said.

He said it was highly irresponsible to have discharged patients at the rate the Gauteng department had done.

Earlier, before Talatala was allowed to be sworn in and give his evidence, counsel for the state opposed to him being a witness.

Their objection was based on Talatala already forming part of court action against the Gauteng health department.

Before Talatala’s testimony, the state finished its cross-examination of Coralie Trotter, a clinical psychologist who had testified about the trauma the families faced.

READ: Undesirable, dehumanised and tortured - expert speaks of Life Esidimeni trauma

The state tried to argue that Trotter was not an expert witness because her report was based on interviews her team had done with 11 families who had lost relatives during the transfer of patients.

They tried to dismiss her report based on the methodology she used, but Trotter said the report was peer-reviewed and epistemological research made use of samples, and therefore she stood by her findings.

The hearings continue on Tuesday.

Read more on:    life esidimeni  |  healthcare

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