Whistle­blower flayed

Grocott's Mail - - NEWS - By KATHRYN CLEARY

Nearly six months af­ter ini­tial me­dia re­ports of al­leged hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions at Tower Hos­pi­tal in Fort Beau­fort, Health Om­buds­man Male­ga­puru Mak­goba re­leased his 60-plus page in­ves­tiga­tive re­port. Former Tower psy­chi­a­trist Dr Ki­ran Suk­eri blew the whis­tle in Fe­bru­ary this year in re­sponse to wit­ness­ing al­leged poor pa­tient care and mis­man­age­ment by hos­pi­tal of­fi­cials.

Mak­goba hauled both the me­dia and Suk­eri over the coals, dis­cred­it­ing Suk­eri in par­tic­u­lar. In con­trast Health MEC He­len Sauls-au­gust, in a state­ment is­sued the same day, saluted whistle­blow­ers for their “cen­tral role” in ex­pos­ing the hos­pi­tal’s is­sues.

Suk­eri’s claims were in­ves­ti­gated by pub­lic bod­ies in­clud­ing the South African Hu­man Rights Com­mis­sion (SAHRC), and the South African So­ci­ety of Psy­chi­a­try (SASOP). SASOP re­leased a damn­ing re­port of the hos­pi­tal at the end of March. Their find­ings in­cluded the in­hu­mane use of seclu­sion rooms and im­proper record keep­ing, par­tic­u­larly death reg­is­ters. SASOP Pres­i­dent Prof Bernard Janse van Rens­berg told Gro­cott’s Mail in March that the cri­sis at Tower could be worse than Life Esidi­meni. Gro­cott’s Mail in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Health-e News con­tin­ued in­ves­ti­ga­tions, cul­mi­nat­ing in a two-part doc­u­men­tary se­ries that aired ENCA’S Check­point in June.

In his ad­dress on Thurs­day 23 Au­gust, Mak­goba called Tower Hos­pi­tal a “Life Esidi­meni copy­cat phe­nom­ena”, say­ing it had “cre­ated a na­tional hys­te­ria” and had blown “a sim­ple com­plaint into a na­tional is­sue that it should not have been”.

He called Suk­eri’s com­plaint “coy”, “de­cep­tive” and “com­plex”, stat­ing that the com­plainant spoke about sys­temic fail­ures rather than the hos­pi­tal it­self. In a di­rect per­sonal at­tack, Mak­goba said, “No­body wants a to work with [Ki­ran Suk­eri] any­more, be­cause they don’t trust him.”

Mak­goba stated that al­le­ga­tions of hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions had been con­flated with cases of pro­fes­sional mis­con­duct, em­pha­sis­ing that there were no hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions at Tower. “I want that to be re­mem­bered”, he said.

He also cited an er­ror made by Suk­eri in re­gards to dates, which had been later cor­rected and apol­o­gised for.

“Suk­eri’s com­plaint dam­aged our rep­u­ta­tion as a coun­try, of co­work­ers in the Eastern Cape. It was a ba­sic statis­tic er­ror.” Mak­goba later called for Suk­eri to be re­ported to the Health Pro­fes­sions Coun­cil of South Africa (HPCSA).

He fur­ther sug­gested the ap­point­ment of an ad­min­is­tra­tor of men­tal health­care ser­vices in the Eastern Cape, as well as for men­tal health­care to be taken back by the Min­is­ter of Health as a na­tional com­pe­tency. Min­is­ter of Health Aaron Mot­soaledi later spoke, stat­ing that the Depart­ment of Health will is­sue a con­tract to hire 51 pri­vate psy­chi­a­trists and 72 psy­chol­o­gists to ad­dress “back­logs” in men­tal health­care fa­cil­i­ties.

Mak­goba tar­geted the me­dia for “ped­dling fal­si­ties”, ap­peal­ing for them to re­tract ar­ti­cles about Tower and is­sue pub­lic apolo­gies. “I want to ask the me­dia and Dr Suk­eri with all these al­le­ga­tions, and make a pub­lic apol­ogy. To­gether. The me­dia as the fourth state is im­por­tant for democ­racy. We can’t do that with a me­dia that ped­dles lies.”

While Mak­goba de­liv­ered his re­port, Eastern Cape MEC for Health, He­len Sauls-au­gust, is­sued a state­ment ac­knowl­edg­ing Mak­goba’s rec­om­men­da­tions and thank­ing the work of whistle­blow­ers.

“The re­port re­veals our weak­nesses and cre­ates op­por­tu­ni­ties for us to jack up our sys­tems. We will im­ple­ment the re­me­dial ac­tion of the re­port to en­sure that what has hap­pened at Tower Hos­pi­tal does not hap­pen again in any of our fa­cil­i­ties. We salute the whis­tle blow­ers who raised these is­sues at the fa­cil­ity so that they may be cor­rected.”

Sauls-au­gust wrote that whistle­blow­ers played a “cen­tral role” in ex­pos­ing the hos­pi­tal’s is­sues.

The state­ment con­firmed the ap­point­ment of a new Act­ing CEO, Dr Bayeni, as well as the re­place­ment of hos­pi­tal man­age­ment staff and nurs­ing man­agers. It also de­tailed plans for ward ren­o­va­tions and the re-train­ing of staff in ac­cor­dance with the Men­tal Health­care Act.

“We have learnt the hard lessons that our in­sti­tu­tions have not in­ter­nalised the new men­tal health hu­man rights cul­ture in par­tic­u­lar the need to es­tab­lish ad­e­quate so­cial sup­port be­fore pa­tients are dis­charged.” Sauls-au­gust af­firmed that men­tal health­care would be a high pri­or­ity for this fi­nan­cial year.

Gro­cott’s Mail, in con­junc­tion with PSAM will con­tinue to in­ves­ti­gate the Eastern Cape’s men­tal health­care cri­sis.

We have learnt the hard lessons that our in­sti­tu­tions have not in­ter­nalised the new men­tal health hu­man rights cul­ture in par­tic­u­lar the need to es­tab­lish ad­e­quate so­cial sup­port be­fore pa­tients are dis­charged.

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