Mentally-ill patient deaths – MEC’s resignation a glimpse of political sanity?

It took a globally-credible member of the medical profession to release his findings into the underestimated slew of deaths of mentally ill patients shabbily transferred from State facilities to unlicensed NGO institutions to get the person politically responsible to resign. That and 141 days since the first highly-avoidable death was uncovered and Gauteng Health MEC, Qedani Mahlangu was openly challenged. While an utterly shocking example of mindless, dysfunctional policy change and a hands-off political approach, the 94 deaths have resulted in a tiny ray of hope appearing on the political horizon. We’re actually witnessing post-94 history, if I’m not terribly mistaken. A sitting politician has resigned, thus accepting responsibility for unacceptable actions under his or her watch. Well, ‘resigned’ may be giving Mahlangu too much credit. The quote attributed to her Premier, David Makhura, himself under extreme political pressure before and certainly since Health Ombudsman Malegapuru Makgoba released his findings, speaks volumes. Mahlangu understood “that if something goes profoundly wrong, you take direct accountability”. More like a push than a jump, it seems. Nevertheless – an encouraging precedent. – Chris Bateman

By Jenna Etheridge and Jeanette Chabalala

Gauteng Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu

Cape Town – The ANC and DA have welcomed Gauteng Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu’s resignation, following a report into the deaths of mentally ill patients. Gauteng Premier David Makhura announced on Wednesday that he received Mahlangu’s resignation letter on Monday night and accepted it.

Gauteng DA health spokesperson Jack Bloom said it took 141 days for her to resign following the first disclosure of deaths in response to a question he asked in the legislature on September 13 last year.

“Makhura bears part of the blame for this disaster as he should have acted earlier to fire her and taken action to protect the patients, many of whom are still suffering in unsuitable NGOs.”

Makhura had “failed badly” and needed to ensure action – including criminal charges – was taken against all those implicated.

ANC provincial secretary Hope Mankwana Popo said Mahlangu had relied on the advice of senior officials in her department to implement the “de-institutionalisation” policy.

Cost-cutting measures

They believed her resignation demonstrated political accountability, as did Makhura’s actions.

Makhura on Wednesday briefed media on the outcome of an investigation into the deaths of mentally ill patients transferred from the Life Esidimeni facility to several NGOs in 2016, as part of the provincial health department’s cost-cutting measures.

Makhura said Mahlangu understood that if something went “profoundly wrong, you take direct accountability”.

Premier David Makhura (R) hosting the Namibian President Dr Hage Geingob at Emoyeni Lodge in Johannesburg.

He would appoint Deputy Health Minister Gwen Ramokgopa as the MEC, as she already had expertise in the area. She held the post of Gauteng health MEC previously.

Bloom however said she had been mediocre as MEC and did not have the drive to fix the “deeply dysfunctional department”.

Earlier on Wednesday, Health Ombudsman Malegapuru Makgoba told reporters in Pretoria that Mahlangu had lost credibility and her actions and those of two senior officials were “chaotic, hurried, in a rush and a total shambles”.

94 deaths uncovered

Makgoba said Mahlangu initially claimed that 36 patients had died. His investigation uncovered that 94 mentally ill patients died between March 23 and December 19, 2016.

He suspected the number could be higher. Many families were not informed about the deaths of their relatives.

Makgoba said 18 out of 47 transferred patients died at Precious Angels NGO shortly after Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi instructed him to investigate.

All 27 NGOs did not have valid licences.

Makgoba said this was unlawful, as the victims were vulnerable, and all the NGOs had to face the law, he said.

One of the family members broke down during the briefing as Motsoaledi spoke about the reasons for the investigation.

“I’m not embarrassed,” Motsoaledi said. “I’m distressed and very angry. Something like this should have been avoided.” – Fin24


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