Deaths of psychiatric patients at high level, says Premier Makhura

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Gauteng Premier David Makhura is seen delivering his state of the province address in Johannesburg on 23 February 2015. It was his second address as the premier.

JOHANNESBURG – The number of psychiatric patients at health centres dying was worryingly high and had to be seriously investigated by the health ombudsman, premier David Makhura said on Friday.

Makhura said in the past five years there has been a “disturbing trend” of patient deaths.

READ: Health Dept investigates 36 psychiatric patient deaths

“I am particularly concerned, especially after meeting with health officials, that over the past five years, there has been a number of mental health patients that passed away, including at Life(healthcare) Esidimeni … the number is worryingly huge and we would like the health ombudsman to investigate this trend,” Makhura told reporters in Johannesburg.

“It is not only now that people have died after they were were moved out of Life(healthcare) Esidimeni … I have checked the numbers and I am concerned. Every single patient who dies in the custody of the State is one death too many. The health ombudsman has agreed to investigate the past years of psychiatric care.”

Makhura could not provide the number of deaths. He said the investigation would provide further details once completed.

Thirty six patients died after they were moved from Lifehealthcare Esidimeni, an NGO contracted by the provincial health department.

The deceased were part of some 2,000 psychiatric patients transferred to other facilities after the provincial health department cancelled its long-running contract with Lifehealthcare Esidimeni, which provides long-term specialised care.

The private facility has provided long-term chronic mental healthcare to thousands of patients in Gauteng under contract from the provincial government for more than 40 years.

Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi has instructed the health ombudsman to investigate the deaths.