Former Gauteng Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu File picture: Chris Collingridge/Independent Media
Johannesburg – The SA Medical Association (Sama) said on Wednesday former Gauteng Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu cannot "simply walk away" following the revelation that 94 mentally ill patients died on her watch.

"The disgraceful, unprofessional, and inhumane way the MEC dealt with this situation warranted nothing less than her removal. However, we believe, now that the Health Ombudsman’s report is out, further investigations are needed to not only finally deal with the actions of the former MEC but also those officials associated with the transfers," Sama chairman Mzukisi Grootboom said in a statement.

"Former MEC Mahlangu cannot simply resign and walk away from this. She, and other officials in the department, have to be held accountable."

Health Ombudsman Malegapuru Makgoba revealed on Wednesday that in contrast to a figure of 36 deaths given by Mahlangu in the provincial legislature last year, at least 94 psychiatric patients had actually died between March and December 2016, after they were moved from the department’s contractor Life Esidimeni to several non-government organisations in the province.

According to the report, the patients were transferred to NGOs that lacked basic competence and experience, leadership capacity to care for mentally ill patients and were operating under invalid licenses.

The Sama welcomed Premier David Makhura's decision to move all patients currently placed at NGOs back to public healthcare institutions.

Parliament's Portfolio Committee on Health welcomed Makhura's promise to act and implement Makgoba's recommendations. "We are saddened and horrified by the report and we urge the Minister of Health [Aaron Motsoaledi] to ensure appropriate actions are taken and the recommendations are fully implemented urgently," said acting portfolio chairman Fish Mahlalela.

The Congress of SA Trade Unions (Cosatu) welcomed Mahlangu's resignation, painting the report as "scandalous" and that the provincial department of health needed to "clean up its act".

"We insist that there is an urgent need to restructure and sort out the source of this bureaucratic bungling that led to this tragedy in the entire department. It is the provincial department of health that needs to clean house," the trade union federation said.

It added that the national department needed to explain its own failure in the debacle and account for its inaction and "the general breakdown of the health system".

"They should account for failing to put together a coherent strategy and a solid plan to deal with mentally ill patients in this country." Jack Bloom, Democratic Alliance spokesman for health, said Makhura should also be blamed for the tragedy.

"He should have acted earlier to fire Mahlangu and taken action to protect the patients, many of whom are still suffering in unsuitable NGOs. It took 141 days for Mahlangu to resign following the first disclosure of deaths in reply to my question in the Gauteng legislature on 13 September last year," he said.