GAUTENG acting director for mental health Dr Kobie Marais has identified the Mental Health Act as being a “stumbling block” in tracing the missing 21 Life Esidimeni patients. Marais said the act prohibits the department from publishing the missing patients’ names.
Speaking to The Sunday Independent, Marais said according to the act the person, human dignity and privacy of every mental health-care user must be respected. “We have a list of names, but we cannot publish them due to the confidentiality of patients. Yes, the Mental Health Act does protect the confidentiality of patients’ information, including their names. Actually, that is a big stumbling block. It’s an act that protects patients but in this case it makes it harder for us.”
Marais said it was working tirelessly with other state organs to trace these patients. “We have also asked Home Affairs again to check for any information around these patients. We have also engaged the SA Social Security Agency (Sassa). The reason is that if you are a mental health-care user (if you are disabled), you can get a social grant. So we are following up again (to establish) if those families did not apply for grants on the patient’s name.
“I have also opened a case of the missing patients with the police on March 28 this year. So the police are also supporting us in finding these patients. We are all trying to trace the patients. We are all putting in some effort in order to find those patients,” she said.
Marais added that all of the patients traced so far were found alive, but none of their families had come forward in search of them. “We don’t know where the families are. We just have the patients’ information – identity numbers and names. So we are hopeful from here that we might find them either through Home Affairs or through the Sassa grants system, the police or even through our health facilities.
“My colleagues in my directorate are following up every piece of information. We are now looking for patients and their families.”
Randfontein police spokesperson Constable Carmen Hendricks said a case of missing persons had been opened and was still under investigation.