While 27 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that undertook to provide care for the 94 Life Esidimeni mentally ill state patients who died under their watch must be held accountable, government, too, must claim responsibility for not doing its job.
Many of the challenges facing NGOs “in these undesirable situations” are the lack of funding by government, coupled with the struggle to access adequate health services for people in their care, according to the National Council for People with Physical Disabilities in South Africa (NCPPDSA).
“More established NGOs are losing capacity and can no longer provide quality services and the only victims are persons with disabilities,” NCPPSDA national director Therina Wentzel said.
“Although government wants families to care for family members with disabilities, they do not provide proper community based healthcare centres to enable this.
“Accessible transport for persons with disabilities who stay with family members is non-existent.”
South Africans were left reeling on Wednesday following the release of a report by health ombudsman Malegapuru Makgoba, who lambasted the Gauteng health department for negligence resulting in the “silent deaths” of the patients while under the care of NGOs last year.
This came as news was delivered of the sudden resignation of Gauteng health MEC Qedani Mahlangu.
More than 1 300 patients were last year transferred by the department from the Life Esidimeni facility to hospitals and 27 unlicensed non-governmental organisations operating unlawfully.
The transfer was made to save money.
Apart from this staggering figure, Makgoba further revealed these numbers would rise because many corpses were not yet identified. Shockingly, of the 94, only one person died from a mental-related illness. The rest died from, among other things, dehydration, diarrhoea, heart attacks and epilepsy.
Wentzel said while government encouraged the development of NGOs in the field of disability, it provided them with very little subsidy and no training.
“This practice spreads the government budget for services so thinly that no NGO really has funding and capacity for proper services,” said Wentzel.
Public interest Law Centre section 27, in looking at the legal consequences of the transfer, have said the way in which the patients were discharged amounted to a breach of their rights under the constitution and the Mental Care Act, including the following:
- The right to healthcare services under section 27 of the constitution, and the National Health Act and the Mental Health Care Act
- Not only did they not receive the care they required, the discharge of the patients resulted in a poorer level of heathcare than they received at Life Esidimeni.
- The right to dignity under section 10 of the constitution and the Mental Health Care Act.
- The right to life under section 11 of the constitution.
- The protection given to mental healthcare users against neglect, guaranteed by the Mental Health Care Act.