Families get unreserved apology
DAY FOUR of the Life Esidimeni arbitration hearings has seen an unreserved apology, and a call for former health MEC Qedani Mahlangu to answer for her decision to transfer more than 1 700 mentally ill patients into unsuitable facilities, resulting in at least 118 deaths.
This was the evidence of the national Health Department’s Director-General Precious Matsoso, who continued giving testimony at the hearings aimed at giving answers and closure to the families of those who died.
Matsoso spent the better part of yesterday morning giving the detailed steps taken by the department in line with the recommendations by Health Ombudsman Professor Malegapuru Makgoba’s inquiry.
Matsoso told the arbitration, headed by retired Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke, that before the ombudsman’s report was released, a ministerial task team had visited most of the NGOs that received the patients and recommended that some of them be closed down.
She also told the hearing that officials had met with the victims’ families and offered an unreserved apology. The transfers had taken place on the instruction of Mahlangu, who had decided to terminate the provincial Health Department’s contract with Life Esidimeni and have more than 1 700 mentally ill patients either sent back home or placed in irregularly licensed NGOs.
The families also heard how the provincial department had not been co-operating with the national department.
Matsoso said she first became aware of the plans when she was asked to intervene by Section27 director Mark Heywood.
“The first time we heard of the transfers was through Section27. I was never informed by the provincial department that this activity was going to take place,” said Matsoso.
Asked by Section27’s counsel, advocate Adila Hassim, whether the department had the power to stop the plans, Matsoso said it had none.
“In terms of this project in particular we had no power. We couldn’t stop it. This is why we had to rely on outcome of the court action to see whether this was the way to go.
“But we didn’t want that either. We didn’t think it could be resolved through the courts.”
While mental health services are a competence of provincial government, the director-general also testified that it was not normal for provincial departments not to co-operate with the national department.
Matsoso said she had been given the impression that everything was under control during her interactions with the provincial head of department, Dr Tiego Selebano. – Health-e News