Life Esidimeni report: 94 unlawful deaths and counting

Life Esidimeni report: 94 unlawful deaths and countingJabu MacKenzie was moved from Life Esidimeni Hospital to an NGO in Soweto. Pic: Peta Thornycroft.

There have been 94 unlawful deaths of mentally ill patients following the Gauteng Health Department’s decision to have them transferred to various non-governmental organisations or sent back to their families.

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Reverend Joseph Maboe visits the grave of his son, Billy, a former Life Esidimeni patient.

This was one of the findings of the final report on the Health Department’s decision to terminate its contract with Life Esidimeni – the psychiatric facility tasked with caring for the patients in licensed private homes.

The 94 deaths according to the health ombudsman‚ Professor Malegapuru Makgoba, were caused by reasons other than ‘mental health’.

Silent deaths

The report, titled “94 silent deaths and still counting”, found that some of the patients died of starvation and lack of water in the overcrowded unlicensed facilities they were transferred to.

Makgoba has found that the Department of Health was negligent when it moved 1 900 patients from Life Esidimeni. The death count, he added, was provisional at this stage as bodies remained unidentified in morgues and some families were still coming forward with more deaths.

Makgoba has found that the Department of Health was negligent when it moved 1 900 patients from Life Esidimeni.

During his investigation Makgoba spent 80 hours listening to family members and inspectors. He found that the NGO’s that had taken the patients in were overcrowded‚ some did not have qualified staff with the requisite skills for the patients and in some cases there was a lack of safety and security as well as inadequate heating in winter.

Families travelled from across the province to hear the details of why their loved ones died. Some wept as he delivered his findings.

MEC’s suitability in question

The Gauteng Health Department’s MEC Qedani Mahlangu has resigned and it is likely that other health officials will follow suit. In September, Mahlangu announced that 36 psychiatric patients had died and the Ombudsman said that the department only knew of 48 deaths, almost half the actual number. This indicated that the department had a “lack of reliable and quality information systems”

Read the full fact sheet here.