ONE DEATH TOO MANY: Supporters of the DA stage a candle vigil yesterday for the 94 Life Esidimeni patients who died last year due to apparent neglect after being relocated to NGOs across Gauteng. Picture: EPA
Johannesburg - The arduous process of moving hundreds of Life Esidimeni patients from ill-equipped NGOs will likely begin only in the coming weeks.

This after the office of Gauteng Premier David Makhura announced that a task team would be able to effect change only once it had gathered enough information on the number of living patients still without real care and how many competent facilities there were to house them.

A number of NGOs that may have been responsible for the negligent care leading to at least 94 deaths have refused to speak out, insisting the government should answer for the tragedy.

According to Gauteng spokesperson Thabo Masebe, the premier’s office would be focusing on relocation of patients as per the recommendations of the report by Health Ombudsman Professor Malegapuru Makgoba, which in- sisted the patients should receive proper care.

“It will take about a week to gather the information and only then will we be able to get people to move out of the NGOs,” Masebe said.

But the licensing of NGOs as mental health facilities and the possibility that many that housed the patients were unlicensed would be dealt with only once new MEC Gwen Ramokgopa had been sworn in as a member of the provincial legislature.

“We are not dealing with the licensing of the organisations; we are dealing with the recommendations of the ombudsman that said we must move the patients. The aim is that by next week she would be sworn in. Once she has, the process of her appointment will be facilitated,” Masebe said.

At a media briefing on Wednesday, the ombudsman said 94 mentally ill patients died after being transferred from Life Esidimeni facilities into the care of NGOs across Gauteng, without their families being notified in many cases.

MEC Qedani Mahlangu resigned on Wednesday in the wake of the scandal.

In October 2015, Mahlangu announced that the department's contract with Life Esidimeni was being terminated to save money and was in line with government policy to "de-institutionalise" certain patients.

Masebe said a task team established yesterday, together with the national Department of Health, sent out members to the NGOs to evaluate how many patients there could be moved.

“We first have to establish the number of people currently cared for in the NGOs. Then we have to identify facilities and hopefully find facilities that are properly equipped for the patients,” he said.

According to Makgoba’s report, “Anchor, Rebafenyi, Masego, Takalani, Thuli, Bophelong (Suurman) and Precious Angels” should close immediately as their continuity poses high risks for patients. Of these, three have already been closed.

When The Star contacted five of the NGOs housing the patients - Precious Angels, Masego Care Centre, Sibosarena, Alshaddai and Siyabathanda - they refused to comment, referring queries to the Department of Health and saying the patients were technically under the care of the government.

The Star