File picture: Marvin Gentry

Johannesburg - Cullinan Care and Rehabilitation centre, outside Pretoria, has asked relatives of patients to sponsor items to be used to rehabilitate the patients.

It is one of the centres in Gauteng where the majority of the Life Esidimeni psychiatric patients were moved.

The items include bath toys, visual games, colouring books and finger and hand puppets.

The request could add pressure to the Gauteng Department of Health after the controversial transfer of more than 2 000 patients in June 2015.

At least 39 patients died after the transfer from Life Esidimeni centre in Randfontein last year.

But civil society groups and families of the affected have claimed the death toll could be as high as 60.

The deaths of the patients are a subject of an investigation by the health ombudsman.

Nompilo Nkosi, whose brother Sizwe Nkosi, 31, is at the Cullinan centre, said the deputy manager at the centre sent her an e-mail requesting sponsorship for items to be used for stimulating and rehabilitating the patients.

The centre appeared to be experiencing financial and capacity problems. Nkosi said:

“The Cullinan Centre has an occupancy rate of 251 patients, but when I went there I was told there were more than 270 patients, which is unacceptable.”

Sizwe was moved to Cullinan with 2 000 former Esidimeni patients in June last year.

But Nkosi said a group of other patients also arrived at the centre from a non- governmental organisation known as Wonderpark in Soshanguve.They were transferred after Wonderpark allegedly closed down in December.

Nkosi said he was shocked by the conditions of the centre when she visited her brother three weeks ago.

She said he had lost considerable weight because of hunger, and overcrowding made matters worse.

Gauteng health MEC Qedani Mahlangu announced in June 2015 that the psychiatric patients would be sent home or placed to community non governmental organisations.

This move was fiercely opposed by the families and civil society groups like Section 27, South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) and the South African Society of Psychiatrists.

Meanwhile Phumla Sekhonyane, spokesperson to Premier David Makhura, said he had met with the families of psychiatric patients who died early in December last year.

Sekhonyane said the main purpose of the meeting was for the premier to listen to the concerns of the affected families whilst awaiting a report of the Health Ombudsman.

“Some of the key issues that were discussed in the meeting, included the inspection of the facilities of the NGOs that are housing the patients following the de-institutionalisation programme of the Department of Health,” said Sekhonyane.

However last year’s meeting by Makhura has irked the committee representing the families of the affected psychiatric patients. They accused the premier of say Makhura of meeting only those whose relatives died to the exclusion of others.

Andrew Pietersen spokesperson for the families said some families have been asked to sign forms without consultation with their legal representatives.

He said this was a gross violation of their human rights.

“The Premier has not spoken to me; he is sending individuals directly to the families and ignoring the Family Committee that is the legitimate representative of all families.

“We encourage our members to refrain from signing any documents with the premier”.

Gauteng health spokesman Steve Mabona denied that any patients were moved from Wonderpark to Cullinan.

Mabona said the requests for stimulation equipment or toys was an internal process and no family was requested such.

The Sunday Independent