Premier David Makhura’s spokesperson Thabo Masebe on Sunday said the premier did not receive any letter from the Wits University occupational students who wrote to the Department of Health, copying to the office of the Premier.
“He didn’t see the letter,” said Masebe. “People write to the office on a daily basis and officials check the subjects before they refer them to the relevant department.”
Masebe said the letter in question was sent to the premier’s office and was referred back to the department, resulting in the premier not seeing it.
“Nobody met with the premier to discuss this issue and I don't think it's wise to deliberate on the matter, which should not have happened,” said Masebe.
“What is important right now is to implement the recommendations set out by the ombudsman to alleviate the wrongs highlighted in the report and safeguard lives.”
A report released by Health Ombudsman Malegapuru Makgoba said as many as 94 psychiatric patients who were transferred from Life Healthcare Esidimeni to unlicensed care centres died of causes that included neglect and starvation.
On Sunday, DA MPL Jack Bloom released fragments of the letter, which was apparently sent on January 18, 2016, by University of Witwatersrand occupational therapy students who worked at the Esidimeni centre as part of their studies.
In the letter, the students claim that: “Waverley has a high number of patients who have treatment-resistant forms of their conditions, mostly schizophrenia. Because of the experienced and qualified staff at Waverley Care Centre and similar placements, patients have easy access to the level of care they need, which is likely not to be the case in the community, or even at community-based non-governmental organisations and non-profit organisations. These organisations are unlikely to have the same cadres of staff that placements like Waverley Care Centre do."
“Waverley's structured programme allows the mental health care users a more balanced life – it incorporates opportunity for personal management, physical exercise and engagement in meaningful and productive activity (eg industrial therapy) – such as a vocational workshop where patients can engage in assembly tasks as run by the occupational therapy technicians and nursing staff. We are concerned that these patients, already vulnerable, will be at risk of abuse and injury should they be discharged from Waverley.”
Following the release of the damning report into the psychiatric patients’ deaths – who died after they were transferred from provincial government contractor Life Esidimeni Centre to 27 NGOs around the province – former Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu resigned.
The patients died of thirst, hunger and cold, after being transferred when the department cancelled the centre's contract as part of cost-cutting.