Not our job to verify deaths says health department

Not our job to verify deaths says health departmentReverend Joseph Maboe visits the grave of his son, Billy, a former Life Esidimeni patient. (File Photo)

The Gauteng Department of Health (GDoH) says it is not their job to verify 12 more casualties from the Life Esidimeni move, shifting the responsibility onto Health Ombudsman Professor Malegapuru Makgoba.

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But when contacted about this on Thursday morning Ricardo Mahlakanya, communications director at the Office of Health Standards Compliance, confirmed that investigating the additional 12 deaths is not Makgoba’s role.

“I’ve spoken to the Health Ombudsman and he’s not verifying any names or numbers. From our side we are not involved in this,” he said.

On Wednesday Section27 advocate Nicky Stein brought a list of 12 additional names to the Life Esidimeni arbitration hearing, raising the death toll from 144 to 156.

State advocate Tebogo Hutamo objected to the list, citing that the 12 additional names had to be verified as Life Esidimeni patients who had been moved out of care and then subsequently died as a result. Hutamo said that they have “made contact with the office of the Health Ombudsman” to undertake this verification.

But Mahlakanya said his office hasn’t “received anything” and “we don’t have anything in our possession to verify”.

Retired deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke instructed the state to verify the names before next week Thursday, when final legal argument is heard, or see all 12 added to the official death toll – increasing the number of families eligible for the compensation award to be determined by Moseneke.

Stein said Section27 had sent the list to the GDoH on December 7 2017 but had been ignored.

“This information has not been sprung on our colleagues this afternoon,” she told the arbitration hearings.

State ‘incapacity’

When asked why it has taken the GDoH almost two months to verify the names with no success, Gauteng provincial government spokesperson Thabo Masebe said that “it was decided that Professor Makgoba would take the names, verify them, and come back to us with a report… We are waiting for that report.”

Despite the media attention and national outrage caused by the tragedy which saw just over 1700 mental health care users in Gauteng moved from Life Esidimeni facilities to 27 non-governmental organisations in a rushed and traumatic manner, the provincial government appears to still be fumbling to take responsibility.

Jack Bloom, the Democratic Alliance’s shadow MEC for health, said “it is ridiculous that we are still disputing the death toll and we still don’t know the full tally, 18 months after the move. This shows the state’s incapacity, which led to this tragedy, continues.”

Up to 62 more patients may still be missing after a list of names – emanating from the GDoH – was circulated on Monday.

However, Gauteng Health MEC Dr Gwen Ramokgopa told the arbitration hearings on Wednesday that the total number of missing psychiatric patients is in fact 55.

“Who really knows?” asked Bloom casting doubt on all GDoH figures. “If we are honest we still don’t know the fate of many of the patients. They might be all alone in the world or, even worse, dead.” – Health-e News.