JOHANNESBURG – Suspended Gauteng Health Department head Dr Barney Selebano and other officials implicated in the deaths of more than 100 psychiatric patients are intending to challenge the health ombudsman's report, Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi revealed in Parliament on Wednesday.
The patients died after they were transferred from Life Esidimeni to 27 NGOs in the province.
“There is a flurry of activity between the office [of health standards compliance] and a group of lawyers…they are representing the head of department of Gauteng Health and the implicated health officials who feel aggrieved by findings of the ombudsman and they want to challenge them,” Motsoaledi said while briefing Parliament’s portfolio and select committee on health.
He added that the letter from lawyers only stated an intention to appeal the ombudsman’s report, but no official appeal had been lodged. The implicated officials have 15 days left to lodge the appeal.
Motsoaledi made the announcement after Health Ombudsman Malegapuru Makgoba informed MPs the death toll had risen from 94 to “well over 100”.
“We are above 100. I can’t say that is the end. From data that is coming, one is quite confident that figure has gone above 100,” he said.
Makgoba says he found many anomalies in the data made available to him by the Gauteng Health Department and the 27 NGOs who received psychiatric patients from Esidimeni.
FULL REPORT: 94 mentally ill patients died
He said 26 of the patients “had two dates of death”.
“It just tells you how difficult the data was.”
The NGOs, noted the ombudsman, did not have valid licences. When the licences were inspected, they were signed by a director of the Gauteng Health Department, Dr Makgabo Manamela, who later admitted she was not qualified to do so.
After both Manamela and Selebano admitted they knew the licences were not correctly approved, Selebano then went to the NGOs and signed new licences, backdating them, Makgabo said, later adding this was akin to “tampering with evidence”.
“When HOD [head of department] comes and give you evidence under oath, under affirmation, goes around to NGOs signing licences. That is an example of tampering with licences.”
When Makgoba interviewed those in charge of the 27 NGOs, most said they were not prepared to receive patients, were not trained to treat the mentally ill, did not have the proper infrastructure, and their facilities were overcrowded.
“They saw it as a business as opposed to a service,” said Makgoa.
Five of the NGOs accounted for 80 of the deaths.
The ombudsman recommended disciplinary hearings against implicated officials, while the matter has also been referred to the police for investigation.
African News Agency