14 March 2017

South Africa: Life Esidimeni - Independent Tribunal Appointed

Pretoria — Health Minister, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, has appointed an Ad-hoc Independent Tribunal to process all appeals relating to the Health Ombudsman report, which looked into the deaths of mentally ill patients in Gauteng.

The tribunal will be headed by the retired Judge President of the Gauteng High Court, Bernard Ngoepe. His team includes Professor Brian Robertson, who is a retired professor of Psychiatry at the University of Cape Town and Professor Hoosen Coovadia, who is a retired professor of Paediatrics at the University of Natal.

Dubbed "No Guns: 94+ Silent Deaths and Still Counting," the Ombudsman report, which was released in February, revealed that 94 mentally ill patients died after being removed from Life Healthcare Esidimeni to 27 NGOs.

In late 2016, Minister Motsoaledi requested the Health Ombudsman, Professor Malegapuru Makgoba, to investigate the circumstances surrounding the deaths of these patients and advise on a way forward. The report found that all the 27 NGOs to which the patients were transferred operated under invalid licences and all patients who died at these facilities died under unlawful circumstances.

At the time of the release of the report, Makgoba said only one patient died from mental health illness, while some died because they were not well when they were received by the subsequent facilities. Some had diarrhoea, chronic conditions such as TB and hypertension, while others suffered heart attacks.

The Provincial Health Department officials -- who were implicated in what Makgoba has described as a move from the "structured and non-stop caring environment" of Life Esidimeni into an "unstructured, unpredictable, sub-standard caring environment" of the NGOs - had 30 days from the date of the report's release to launch an appeal against the findings.

Qedani Mahlangu tendered her resignation as the Gauteng MEC of Health and member of the Gauteng Provincial Legislature following the release of the report. She was replaced by Dr Gwen Ramokgopa.

The report identified Mahlangu, Head of Department (HoD) Dr Tiego Ephraim Selebano and Director Dr Makgabo Manamela as three key players in the Gauteng Mental Health Marathon Project (GMMP), under which the patients were moved to the NGOs. The GMMP has since been de-established.

The report also recommended disciplinary proceedings against Selebano and Manamela for gross misconduct and/or incompetence in compliance with the Disciplinary Code and Procedure applicable to SMS members in the Public Service.

Makgoba said the findings against the two must be reported to their respective professional bodies for appropriate remedial action with regard to professional and ethical conduct.

Makgoba also recommended corrective disciplinary action for the implicated Deputy Directors and Chief Director for failing to exercise their fiduciary duties and responsibilities.

Tribunal

The tribunal is appointed in terms of section 88A (2) and (3) (a) of the National Health Amendment Act, no 63 of 2003.

The act says a tribunal must consists of not more than three persons. One person must be a retired judge of a High Court or a retired magistrate, who must be the chairperson; and two must be persons appointed on account of their knowledge of the health care industry.

The Independent Ad-hoc Tribunal is appointed with immediate effect and is expected to conclude the appeal process within a period of two months.

Minister Motsoaledi wished members of the tribunal well in discharging their responsibilities.

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