18 October 2017

South Africa: Life Esidimeni MD - 'Doctors Failed to Speak Out'

Relatives of Life Esidimeni patients broke down and sobbed on Wednesday as they heard how the former managing director (MD) of the facility begged the Gauteng department of health for information about where patients were being moved to.

Life Esidimeni former MD Dr Morgan Mkhatshwa told the hearings that it was "a command" to move patients to various NGOs, despite his repeated pleas for information about the names, addresses and contact details for these NGOs.

Transfer patients

Mkhatshwa said he failed to understand how department officials, some of them trained medical officials, didn't stand up and speak out.

"It was sad for me to see how clinicians could succumb to what I'd call political pressure. I said it's bad if you forget the oath you took [as a medical practitioner]," he said.

"How could they not stand up and say 'over my dead body, I will not do that'," Mkhatshwa said.

He said he warned officials about the plans to transfer patients from Life Esidimeni to a number of unlicensed NGOs, some of which he had known nothing about.

This was following an incident in 2007 where 17 children were taken from Life Esidimeni and placed in an NGO.

Mkhatshwa said they later died because they had been severely dehydrated and malnourished.

"Why couldn't we have learned from the 2007 incident? Did we just choose to be oblivious to it, or did we just ignore it?" he asked. "Expert advice was ignored".

During his testimony, Mkhatshwa recalled how representatives from the various NGOs just started arriving at Life Esidimeni to collect patients. Some even hand picked patients.

"They said they were coming to pick their patients and I said 'get the hell out of here, this is not an auction'. These are people," he said.

Better facilities

Responding to a question about patients being collected on the back of bakkies, Mkhatshwa said he told the official to "take that damned thing out of our facilities".

Mkhatshwa said the decision to move patients from Life Esidimeni to the various NGOs wasn't "rationally clinically" or "rationally business-wise", with the former MEC of health Qedani Mahlangu telling him there wasn't a budget to pay for the Life Esidimeni contract.

"We were ensured that the users would leave Esidimeni for equal or better facilities," he said.

Mkhatshwa said he resigned from his position at Life Esidimeni because he too was traumatised by the way it turned out.

"I ask myself if there is anything I could've done. I don't know," he said.

"I think the families did more. They went and toyi toyi'ed at the department... they demanded an apology... they demanded to know where their loved ones were".

The hearings continue on Thursday.

Source: News24

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