An­guish over de­lay of re­port

Cir­cum­stances sur­round­ing the deaths of men­tally ill pa­tients were probed

The Star Early Edition - - NEWS - MASEGO PANYANE

FOR THE fam­i­lies of the pa­tients who were trans­ferred from Life Esidi­meni Psy­chi­atric Hos­pi­tal in Rand­fontein in June last year af­ter the hos­pi­tal’s con­tract with the Gaut­eng De­part­ment of Health was can­celled, wait­ing for a few more weeks for the re­lease of the pre­lim­i­nary re­port into the cir­cum­stances sur­round­ing the deaths of men­tally ill pa­tients is a dif­fi­cult ask.

Health Om­buds­man Pro­fes­sor Male­ga­puru Mak­goba an­nounced ear­lier this week that the re­lease of the re­port would be de­layed.

Fam­ily mem­bers of pa­tients Nomvula Non­jabe and Chris­tine Nx­u­malo ex­pressed their frus­tra­tion at the de­lay of the re­sults. Non­jabe’s sis­ter Khayakazi was trans­ferred to Goit­se­mod­imo, an NGO in Fochville, west of Joburg, from Esidi­meni.

“We are dis­ap­pointed as a fam­ily and feel like the MEC isn’t tak­ing this mat­ter se­ri­ously, es­pe­cially be­cause she asked for an ex­ten­sion on the day she was sup­posed to de­liver feed­back,” Non­jabe said.

She added that while her fam­ily hope the re­port will not be tam­pered with when it is fi­nally re­leased, they also hope it will give them the an­swers they need.

“We hope to get an­swers on what led to the deaths of the pa­tients and the plan to pre­vent fur­ther deaths. We also hope they will do the right thing and com­mu­ni­cate with fam­i­lies ac­cord­ingly,” she said.

Nx­u­malo, on the other hand, said it was im­por­tant that the pre­lim­i­nary re­port be re­leased be­fore the end of this month, be­cause they had been wait­ing long enough. Nx­u­malo’s sis­ter, Vir­ginia Mach­pelah, 50, had Alzheimer’s dis­ease.

“It can­not go be­yond Jan­uary, be­cause it means that we would have waited five months now. This re­port is not just for those who have died, but it will also pro­vide clar­ity for the fam­i­lies of peo­ple who are alive and in NGOs at the mo­ment. The si­lence on this is­sue has been deaf­en­ing,” Nx­u­malo said.

She added that the re­lease of the re­port would pro­vide clo­sure for them as a fam­ily, re­gard­ing her sis­ter’s death.

“We can’t move on. We didn’t even see where she died. All we want is for our fam­ily mem­bers to rest in peace, and with­out an­swers this can’t hap­pen,” she said.

Nx­u­malo said she be­lieved that noth­ing had been fair about the process of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, and that the MEC had been self­ish to de­lay the re­lease. They would wait for the re­port’s re­lease to hear what it said.

Ac­cord­ing to a state­ment re­leased by the of­fice of the om­buds­man, Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu had re­quested ad­di­tional time to study the con­tents of the re­port, and re­spond as re­quired by law.

The in­terim re­port was due to be re­leased yesterday, but Mahlangu will now have un­til the close of busi­ness on Jan­uary 24 to pro­vide her com­ments.

The can­cel­la­tion of the con­tract was con­tro­ver­sial, with de­tails of how pa­tients be­lieved to have re­quired spe­cialised med­i­cal treat­ment were trans­ferred to non-gov­ern­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tions be­ing un­clear.

Shortly af­ter­wards, re­ports emerged that 37 pa­tients had died af­ter the trans­fers to NGOs. The cir­cum­stances sur­round­ing the deaths of the pa­tients are un­clear, hence the om­buds­man’s de­ci­sion to in­ves­ti­gate.

Dur­ing the process of the trans­fers, one of the sup­port sys­tems of the fam­i­lies was the South African De­pres­sion and Anx­i­ety Group (Sadag).

Ac­cord­ing to its op­er­a­tions direc­tor, Cassey Cham­bers, this was af­ter the fam­i­lies re­quested that the or­gan­i­sa­tion help them to man­age the process.

“In Oc­to­ber 2015, Sadag re­ceived calls from fam­ily mem­bers for info about the con­tract ter­mi­na­tion, and some needed info about the re­lo­ca­tion of their loved ones.

“Through­out this time, we have been ac­tively in­volved in as­sist­ing them with track­ing down their loved ones, in­clud­ing those who lost them and those who are at the NGOs. Since we first heard the an­nounce­ment from the MEC, we are still get­ting re­quests from fam­ily mem­bers who need help,” Cham­bers said.

She fur­ther ex­plained that the or­gan­i­sa­tion had been ac­tively in­volved in the in­ves­ti­ga­tion of the re­port. The or­gan­i­sa­tion, along with other civil- so­ci­ety groups, was called to be in­ter­viewed in the re­port.

Cham­bers said, how­ever, that while fam­ily rep­re­sen­ta­tives and civil-so­ci­ety groups were pleased that the in­ves­ti­ga­tion took place, the anx­i­ety af­ter the long process was still there.

“It has been a long process, so we are all anx­iously wait­ing for the re­sults and the find­ings. The fam­ily mem­bers, es­pe­cially those who have lost their loved ones, will find clo­sure, and many of their unan­swered ques­tions will fi­nally be an­swered.

“We hope that the liveli­hood or the well­be­ing of the cur­rent pa­tients who are still in the NGOs will be well looked af­ter and catered for. There­fore, we re­main op­ti­mistic and hope the re­sults will give the fam­ily mem­bers some an­swers and help us to move for­ward to en­sure the pa­tients are well taken care of,” Cham­bers said.

The of­fice of the om­buds­man has said the date of the re­port’s re­lease would be com­mu­ni­cated at a later stage. In the mean­time, the wait for the re­port by an­gry and frus­trated fam­i­lies, con­tin­ues.

We feel the MEC is not tak­ing the mat­ter se­ri­ously

PIC­TURE: CHRIS COLLINGRIDGE

WOR­RIED: Con­cerned cit­i­zens and rel­a­tives of pa­tients with men­tal ill­ness protest against their re­lo­ca­tion from the Life Esidi­meni Hos­pi­tal in Rand­fontein, in­set, to un­known premises in June last year.

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