File picture: Bhekikhaya Mabaso/ANA

Johannesburg - The number of mental patients who have died after they were relocated from Life Esidimeni Healthcare to 27 NGO's has risen to 141, Gauteng Health Department's acting head of department Dr Ernest Kenoshi, said on Friday.

Kenoshi told the arbitration hearing the 23 patients died between February and September.

''Subsequent to February after Health Ombudsman [Malegapuru Makgoba] report was released more deaths happened. So the number of deaths to date, adding the 118, is 141,'' Kenoshi said.

Taken aback by the new revelation, arbitration chairman Dikgang Moseneke asked Kenoshi to repeat his statement.

''My goodness! You will have to say that again... 23 people died between February and September?'''

Read: Life Esidimeni transfers caused at 'least 118 deaths'

Lacking resources led to Life Esidimeni tragedy

Kenoshi, who took over after as the suspension of Barney Selebano, was under cross examination from provincial department's lawyer Tebogo Hulamo, added that seven of the patients died at NGOs while the rest, that is 16 patients, died at state mental hospitals.

In February, Gauteng Premier David Makhura suspended Selebano in the wake of recommendations by Health Ombudsman Malegapuru Makgoba, following the death of 118 psychiatric patients at ill-equipped facilities of various NGOs. 

The then Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu tendered her resignation as the saga unfolded.

At the time, Makgoba’s report found that as many as 94 mentally ill patients who were transferred from Esidimeni to unlicensed care centres died of causes that included neglect and starvation. The death toll figure rose over time as more information was discovered by Makgoba, bringing the number of deaths to 118 - a figure he revealed while testifying before the inquiry earlier this week.

The department said the the reasons behind the termination of the Esidimeni contract was to cut costs and put the contract out to tender and allow other service providers to come in.

Earlier, Kenoshi told the arbitration hearing that 26 postmortems had been completed on 26 patients and that the reports were with the SA police Service (SAPS). He added that most of the deaths happened before the Esidimeni  tragedy unfolded, and that some were buried without postmortems having been performed on them. It was not known where some were buried, including those who were given pauper funerals by NGOs.

Moseneke asked him who took a decision that the patients be buried without postmortem reports or consent from families. It emerged that most had ''provisional natural death'' stated as the cause of their demise.

''Part of the closure is to know where the bodies are buried isn't it? But I do not see places of burial in this schedule. Why?'' he asked.

''I wont be able to answer for managers of the NGOs, but we found that an NGO would call a private undertaker and arrange funeral with or without the consent of families unfortunately,'' said Kenoshi.

''We have been working hard collating more information with the police and the NGOs.Quite a number of the NGOs did not keep proper clinical records of the patients.''