NEWS

There Could Be At Least Another 22 Deaths To Add To The 94 Confirmed Dead In The Life Esidimeni Scandal

More unidentified dead are still unclaimed in mortuaries, say new reports.

05/02/2017 10:39 SAST | Updated 05/02/2017 11:10 SAST
Gallo Images / Beeld / Felix Dlangamandla
Families and community members held a prayer vigil in Johannesburg in remembrance of 37 psychiatric patients known to have died by October 2016; last week the Health Ombud reported that at least 94 had died.

There could be at least another 22 deaths of Gauteng psychiatric patients, adding to the 94 already confirmed by the Health Ombudsman.

The 94 patients who died were part of a group of 1 531 psychiatric patients transferred out of Life Esidimeni hospital to private facilities which were all found to be unregistered, said Health Ombud Professor Malegapuru Makgoba in his report released last week. He found that the Gauteng Health Department moved the patients to cut costs.

On Sunday, City Press newspaper reported that there were at least 22 patients who lay unidentified in Tshwane mortuaries for months. Batala Ketole of Ketole Funeral Undertakers told City Press' sister newspaper Rapport that about 14 unidentified bodies had been in storage at his facility for months. They came from the Precious Angels home in Atteridgeville, where at least 20 of the 57 patients transferred there were confirmed to have died.

The newspapers reported that this was raised with Makgopa on Saturday, who said: "Yes, here it begins. I predicted in my report that many more bodies would be discovered. I know there are also nine more in a mortuary in Mamelodi."

Gauteng Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu resigned on Monday, days after Makgoba's report was handed to Gauteng Premier David Makhura but hours before it was released in public.

City Press reported that Mahlangu's senior staff knew as early as July last year that patients were dying but that she did not know until August as she had been busy campaigning for the August local government elections and, when she found out about deaths at Precious Angels, she ordered postmortems conducted but did not order the removal of the survivors and more patients later died.

City Press also reported that 462 patients died of "natural causes" between September 2011 and May 2016 at five care centres run by Life Esidimeni. Mahlangu's supporters told the newspaper that this was why her department cancelled the contract with the hospital and moved the patients to other facilities.

The Sunday Times reported on the shock of families whose relatives died in order to save the department R208 a day: the Health Ombud's report said that the hospital had cost R320 a day per patient while the NGOs received R112 a day per patient.

One relative, Marie Collitz, whose husband Freddie Collitz, 61, suffered from severe depression and died after seven months at Mosego facility, said the last time she saw him he was dirty, had a head injury, blisters on his ankles and a sore on his nose. "I can't get the image of his face out of my head. He had never been that bad," she told the Sunday Times.

Virginia Machapela, 50, suffered from major depression and dementia, and died after 47 days at Precious Angels. Her sister, Christine Nxumalo, told the Sunday Times that the department bulldozed through the plan to move patients despite concerns raised by relatives. "All they wanted was to rubberstamp this process as quickly as possible," she said.