CPMH concerned over unexplained deaths of 36 psychiatric patients

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

36 Transferred Psychiatric Patients from Life Healthcare Esidimeni Deceased

The Alan J Flisher Centre for Public Mental Health expresses ­concern over recent deaths and the DOH’s response

15 September 2016

The Alan J Flisher Centre for Public Mental Health (CPMH) wishes to express its concern over the recently reported deaths of 36 psychiatric patients transferred from Life Healthcare Esidimeni earlier this year.

About 2 000 psychiatric patients were moved into 122 NGOs after the Gauteng Health Department cancelled its long-running contract with Life Healthcare Esidimeni due to funding cuts. News of the contract cancellation was announced late last year and the affected patients were moved to the various NGOs early in 2016.

Despite loved ones claiming to struggle tracking down their transferred family members at these NGOs and a constant flood of reports about poor conditions (including poor medical attention, harrowing living conditions and a lack of food), the Gauteng Health Department continued to claim that all patients were accounted for and were receiving proper care.

These pleas from family members‚ Section 27 lawyers as well as mental health care institutions like the South African Federation for Mental Health (SAFMH) and the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) were continually dismissed.

In an oral reply to some questions posed by the Democratic Alliance’s Gauteng Shadow Health MEC, Jack Bloom, Bloom, the Gauteng Health MEC, Ms Qedani Mahlangu, confirmed in Legislature on Tuesday that 36 of these patients are now deceased and the causes of death undisclosed.

Ms Mahlangu said that the patients were transferred without clinical files that detailed their medical history, and doctors were sent to the NGOs to examine the medical needs of the patients in a continuing investigation into the cause of the deaths.

“I am horrified that so many patients have died from undisclosed causes after being transferred to NGOs, many of which relatives have said are unsuitable. I am aware that eight patients died at the Previous Angels NGO and some others died at Takalani and at the Cullinan Centre,” said Bloom in a statement issued on Tuesday.

Bloom also mentioned that, after being challenged by him to apologize for the “poor manner in which the transfers to NGOs were done,” Ms Mahlangu responded that the Department apologised “where mistakes have been made.”

“The deaths of so many patients need to be accounted for and any sign of negligence by any of the NGOS or the Gauteng Department of Health needs to be addressed urgently,” says CPMH Director, Prof Crick Lund.

Prof Lund confirmed that there is a global movement towards deinstitutionalising psychiatric care and providing mental health care at community level. But this shift needs to be approached with care and that sufficient investment needs to be made into community-based facilities for the effective treatment of the mentally ill, said Lund.

“We call on the Gauteng Health Department and the National Department of Health to take these deaths as well as the reports of maltreatment of psychiatric patients very seriously and to take immediate action to confirm the proper care of the remaining transferred patients,” said Prof Lund.

The Alan J Flisher Centre for Public Mental Health (CPMH) grew out of a shared vision and commitment to collaboration between members of the Department of Psychiatry and Mental Health at the University of Cape Town (UCT), and the Psychology Department at Stellenbosch University (SU) and has recently been designated as the only mental health and psychiatry WHO Collaborating Centre in South Africa.


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For media queries, interview requests or any other questions, please do not hestitate to contact:

Maggie Marx

+27 21 650 2016

+27 81 767 9033

maggie.marx@uct.ac.za