Saturday Star

The outcome was inevitable, says lawyer


FOR Sasha Stevenson, the outcome of the Life Esidimeni transfer was always unavoidabl­e “given the Gauteng Department of Health’s approach”.

The result, says Stevenson – an attor ney at Section27, which has spent more than a year providing legal support to affected families, and representi­ng various mental health organisati­ons – was “largescale death and unimaginab­le suffering” of 94 mentally ill patients.

“One of the many tragedies about the Life Esidimeni case is that the outcome was inevitable. The department was warned about the risks countless times. They failed to listen to families, psychiatri­sts, mental health organisati­ons and others.

“A number of our clients have reported visiting loved ones who were hungry, cold and dirty in the NGOs and one of the hospitals… Concerns about mental healthcare service users relapsing due to receiving incorrect medication were expressed repeatedly.

“Death due to relapse, starvation and dehydratio­n is not a natural death and such deaths require investigat­ion and inquests. Mental healthcare service users were spending the whole day outside in the sun or in small overcrowde­d rooms.

Section 27’s clients, she said, were committed to achieving justice for their loved ones. “This means accountabi­lity for those responsibl­e, and the developmen­t and implementa­tion of a mental health system that serves the needs of mental health care users.

“There are still hundreds of for mer residents of Life Esidimeni in NGOs around the province. There is a need for an urgent interventi­on to ensure these mental health service users’ safety and that of all within the system,” she said.

Mental health is neglected, marginalis­ed and underfunde­d, Stevenson explained. “Unfortunat­ely, this case is not an isolated example. Mental healthcare services tend to be neglected and mental healthcare service users are particular­ly vulnerable to abuse and neglect.

“One of the (health) ombudsman’s recommenda­tions is that the Human Rights Commission conduct an investigat­ion into human rights abuses in the mental healthcare system countrywid­e and we call on the commission to conduct a thoroughly investigat­ion urgently.” - Sheree Bega

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