SLOW PROGRESS: Dr Gwen Ramokgopa
Eighty days after the Health Ombudsman ordered the move of Life Esidimeni mentally ill patients from unfit non-governmental organisations, almost two-thirds of them have finally been transferred.

This was revealed by Health MEC Dr Gwen Ramokgopa at a media briefing held by the department in Joburg on Thursday.

The Gauteng Department of Health was plunged into scandal earlier this year after a report by Health Ombudsman Professor Malegapuru Makgoba found the department had failed to sufficiently care for mentally ill patients after the department’s contract with Life Healthcare group was terminated and patients were moved from Life Esidimeni care centres.

The move, which was part of the province’s Marathon Mental Health Project, resulted in the deaths of about 100 patients placed in NGOs, some of which were not equipped to deal with the patients.

Ramokgopa was joined by acting head of department Dr Ernest Kenoshi when they further revealed that the disciplinary process against the 10 officials fingered in Makgoba’s report was on hold while the independent tribunal appointed by the MEC finalised its work.

Among these officials are suspended HOD Dr Barney Selebano and Dr Makgabo Manamela, director of Mental Health Services in the province.

Ramokgopa said that 592 patients had been moved in the last 79 days. Some NGOs had been closed, their patients removed and their licences were currently under review.

“The minimum number of NGOs closed is five, where we’ve taken all patients out, especially those who were established for the Esidimeni move,” Ramokgopa said.

“Of the approximately 800 patients who were in NGOs, about 210 still need to be moved. A few have moved to hospitals because they were ill, the remainder are still in NGOs,” Kenoshi said.

While it initially seemed the department had missed the 45 day deadline to move all patients to appropriate facilities, Ramokgopa said the deadline had been extended by the Health Ombud with the buy-in of the multidisciplinary task team that was established.

As it stands, the department said all patients would be transferred by end of this month.

Kenoshi said the “appropriate” facilities that the department had identified included Selby Park Hospital and the Baneng Care Centre, one of the Life Healthcare centres.

The Baneng Centre cared for children, but had since been made suitable for adult patients as well.

“At Selby Park, we have under 400 patients, and Baneng hosts 230 patients. Both are nearly filled to capacity but we will start using a third site, Life Healthcare Waverley.”

On the progress of the disciplinary hearings, Kenoshi said: “We have appointed an attorney to lead evidence in a disciplinary enquiry against all the others, eight of them. It will be presided over by an advocate. In the case of Dr Manamela and Dr Selebano, the disciplinary cases have been stalled while awaiting the outcome of their appeals to the minister (of health) against the ombudsman’s report.”

Ramokgopa said an interim chairperson of the Mental Health Care Review Board had been appointed. The department would also be focusing on the reviewing of licensing requirements for NGOs and ensuring all dead patients were subject to forensic investigations to determine the exact causes of death.

The department revealed that in the last 79 days, at least six patients had died, but Ramokgopa stressed that the conditions of their deaths were not the same as the ones in NGOs. “They had other medical conditions they died from,” she said.