Call for Premier to Resign After 94 Psychiatric Patients Died of Negligence in South Africa

The Democratic Alliance (DA) has called for the resignation of Gauteng Premier David Makhura after the “horrifying deaths of at least 94 mental health patients”, as revealed by Health Ombudsman Malegapuru Makgoba in a report released Wednesday.

Jack Bloom, DA Gauteng Shadow MEC for Health, said in a statement Thursday that the Premier “should have acted decisively last year when it was first disclosed on 13 September that 36 patients had died in unsuitable NGOs after they were transferred there from Life Healthcare Esidimeni.”

It turned out 77 patients had actually already died since the 1,900 patients had been transferred during May 2016, in a cost-cutting bid. By the time the report was released, at least 94 were dead… and still counting.

The DA said there was no need to wait for the findings of the Health Ombud’s report as there was enough evidence in September for everyone to see that things had gone “disastrously wrong” with “manifold reports in the media, two court cases and demonstrations by the relatives of deceased mental health patients.” (See below.)

According to the Report by the Health Ombudsman only one patient died of a mental illness, while the other 93 died from causes not related to their illness.

In what the BBC labelled a ‘shambles’ and the Guardian a ‘scandal’, the ombudsman found that most of the patients had died from starvation, dehydration and diarrhoea.

South African social media users and callers to radio stations have called it ‘murder’, a ‘second Marikana’ and ‘the ultimate betrayal by the State’.

The DA accuses the Premier of protecting Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu because she was an “ANC heavyweight”. After many calls to resign, Mahlangu did so on Tuesday.

The Gauteng Premier apologised unconditionally for the “tragic loss of lives of our fellow citizens under the care of @GautengHealth”; and accepted all the recommendations in the report, without reservations.

The Report – entitled ‘No Guns: 94 Silent Deaths and Still Counting” – found the Department of Health had been negligent, and that the patients died under unlawful circumstances.

The DA pointed out that the Premier is implicated in the Report for the disastrous decision to transfer the patients – on page 30 the Head of the Gauteng Health Department Dr Barney Selebano claims that the “decision to start deinstitutionalization of mental health care users from LE was undertaken in the Office of the Premier of Gauteng, the Honourable David Makhura, together with the HoD”.

The DA also says criminal charges should be laid against Mahlangu and all others who are implicated according to evidence.

Qedani Mahlangu has resigned. Source: Gauteng Health

The Minister said all patients that are currently placed in NGOs will be transferred back to public health care facilities and state owned institutions within 45 days, in line with the report’s recommendations.

Mahlangu released a media statement Wednesday thanking the Minister and ANC for giving her the opportunity to serve the people of Gauteng, and pointed out that she has been in public service for the past 20 years “without blemish”.

Former Deputy Minister for Health, Dr Gwen Ramokgopa, will take over from Mahlangu. Nandi Mayathula-Khoza will be the acting MEC for the Department of Health until Dr Ramokgopa has been sworn-in.

Most people on Twitter have reacted with heartbreak and outrage that this is not considered a national crisis and given as much attention as other issues. Some say this may just be the tip of a national health crisis iceberg.

The #LifeEsidimeni report could however herald the start of real action and solutions in improving healthcare for all in South Africa, with numerous horrified South Africans calling for a major overhaul of the country’s health system.