At least 62 psychiatric patients moved from Life Esidimeni facilities to nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) by the Gauteng health department in 2016 are missing, News24 reported. The DA's Jack Bloom sounded the alarm on Monday, and opened a case of missing persons with the police.
At least 144 patients died of neglect, dehydration and starvation after being transferred to the NGOs, many of which were not licensed and were not equipped to care for them. An arbitration hearing into the deaths is currently underway in Johannesburg.
"We need to look at the police mortuaries. Are there any unidentified bodies? Can we match the details that we have with the unidentified bodies? But we at least must do what we can, because the true tragedy is that the Esidimeni deaths may well be over 200," Bloom reportedly said.
According to Daily Maverick, acting Gauteng mental healthcare directorate head Dr Kobie Marais sent an email last week, stating, "Morning NGOs Managers, Please check this list of 62 not located Life Esidimeni Patients in your NGOs facilities and respond to us if any of them is receiving care from any of your facility (sic)."
Critical information is reportedly missing from the department's list of the 62 patients, including some surnames, some ID numbers -- and with some just listed as numbers.
Bloom reportedly had to fill out a missing persons form for each of the 62 patients. He said he was in the process of trying to trace the missing information so that cases could be opened.
He told Daily Maverick: "It's quite a thing. This person is a real person, has been born, lived. What happened to them?" he asked after filling in the forms.
Before going into the police station, he said: "I really don't think that many are still alive. That takes the Esidimeni toll to about 200. The nightmare is not over."
But while Daily Maverick confirmed that the email was sent, Gauteng provincial government spokesperson Thabo Masebe said that no patients were missing.
He reportedly said that Premier David Makhura and health minister Aaron Motsoaledi had personally visited the NGOs and hospitals to account for all the patients who were moved. It appears as if some of the "missing" patients were moved to their families, but there was reportedly confusion at the arbitration hearing as to what this number was.
National health director general Malebona Precious Matsoso reportedly told the hearings that she did not know whether the "59" patients who were unaccounted for were sent home or to NGOs, Daily Maverick reported.
It also emerged that disability grants for some of the missing patients was still being collected. According to Business Day, Bloom said: "It is known that disability grants are being collected for some of them‚ so why have they not been tracked down or possible fraud detected in this matter? I suspect that many of the missing patients could be dead as they would not be able to survive long without decent care."
According to the department's list, some of the patients are well over 100 years old, and the ID numbers of only 35 patients are known.
Last week, former Gauteng health MEC Qedani Mahlangu appeared at the arbitration hearings and said she could not take "personal" responsibility for the tragedy as it was a "collective" decision to move the patients.
She blamed the officials in her department for not informing her of the extent of the problems with the project.
Mahlangu apologised to the families of the patients.
"The death is painful and regrettable and I want to express my sincere condolences following the termination, including the removal of mental health patients from Life Esidimeni healthcare facilities," she said.