THE Gauteng government might end up spending over R1billion in paying out families of the Life Esidimeni tragedy.
At least 200 families who were not part of the Life Esidimeni Alternative Dispute Resolution process have contacted the office of Premier David Makhura to lodge claims.
The Gauteng government has paid out R159.46million in claims to 134 claimants affected when the former health MEC ordered the removal of psychiatric patients from Life Esidimeni facilities across the province to mostly unregistered NGOs to save money.
Gauteng government spokesperson Thabo Masebe said there was no cut-off time on when families can claim. “We are probably going to spend more than R1bn on this. We don't have a cut-off time, because everyone who was affected needs to be paid out,” Masebe said yesterday.
The removals resulted in the death of 144 patients from neglect, hunger, and dehydration. About 1400 patients were moved, while about 28 are still missing.
The Life Esidimeni Alternative Dispute Resolution led by retired deputy chief justice Dikgang Moseneke ruled that the families be paid about R1.2m each in damages. For those whose family members survived the ordeal, the money would be less R20000, which was allocated for burial costs.
Makhura’s office is now in the process of verifying the family members who have come forward to say their loved ones were affected as a result of the process.
Masebe said so far just over 200 people have come forward and have been verified. “Before the arbitration started, we placed adverts and went on radio to ask people who were affected to come forward, but we did not get much response. Once people saw the award by Justice Moseneke they decided to come forward.
The government is verifying if the claimants have power of attorney over the patients on whose behalf they are claiming. He said once all verifications had been made, the government will send a letter to the Gauteng treasury requesting funds.
Sipho Mtshalala said they are one of the families who are in the process of being verified. Mtshalala, of Soweto, said his sister Busisiwe - who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia - was moved from the Life Esidimeni facility in Randfontein.
“She was supposed to be moved to Cullinan, but ended up at Sterk- fontein Hospital. The hospital called me and told me she had collapsed and was admitted to Leratong Hospital, where she spent nearly a month in ICU before she got better,” Mtshalala said. Busisiwe was treated for heart and kidney failure.
Now Busisiwe is being treated for her psychiatric disorder at Life Esidimeni in Germiston. “She is doing much better, because she is getting proper medication."
The Mtshalala family lodged their claim with Makhura’s office in June. “They told me that they are verifying us. The last time I spoke to them they said they had verified us, and they are still waiting for word from their bosses on when we will be paid out."
The DA's health spokesperson Jack Bloom said a number of new claimants had come forward and the government was stalling in paying them out. “They are not going to be paid soon, because there is no budget for it.
"Maybe they can adjust the budget in November and make provisions for it. If there are several hundred families, the costs might shoot up to about a billion. That would put a massive strain on the government,” Bloom said.