Psychiatric patients to be moved from NGOs next week

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Pretoria - Gauteng Health MEC Dr Gwen Ramokgopa says the transfer of psychiatric patients, who are still under NGO facilities, will begin next week.

The MEC said this on Wednesday when she provided an update on progress made in implementing the Health Ombudsman’s recommendations following the Life Esidimeni tragedy.  

“We can also confirm that five of the NGOs have closed. The remaining 22 NGOs were assessed last week and the process to transfer patients will begin next week,” said the MEC.

She said the transfer of patients will be done within the legislation and procedures advised by the team of experts that assessed the patients and the competences of the receiving facilities that will take care of the specialised needs.

“We have consulted the family committee and further details will be made avail to them. This is to ensure all families are consulted before the move. We have set up a dedicated team to contact each family.”

All patients will be examined and authorities will consider the extent of their severity. Families will be consulted and the proximity of the patients’ homes to the appropriate facilities will be considered before the move is made. MEC Ramokgopa said all logistical arrangements for the transfer are in place.

“The transfer of patients will not be rushed and will be carried out properly. We also want to ensure that patients are brought closer to home and families must have access to visit their loved ones.

“We are also going to put in effective monitoring and evaluating systems to ensure that patients are not compromised during the transfers. Transparency is important in this matter.

“We also intend to bring in medical experts in the field of mental healthcare to guide us moving forward. We are going to replenish the mental health team and change management.”

She said Life Esidimeni Healthcare has provide the department with a database of all patients that were discharged from their facilities, including their medical records. The team of experts, who visited all the 27 NGOs, has provided a list of patients.

“We have a record of all patients in public hospitals. We also have a list of all patients that passed away. We also have a list of unclaimed bodies and those buried as unknowns.

“We are working with two experts from the Statistician General’s office, the South African Police Service (SAPS) and Home Affairs to validate all records so that we account for all patients.”

To date, the MEC said, 1 398 patients were discharged from Life Esidimeni and about 789 are in the remaining NGOs.

“There are patients who were discharged home. We appeal that the media and stakeholders work with us in a transparent manner to verify these figures.”

Rapid Intervention Team established

The department has established a Rapid Intervention Team to look at the implementation of the six recommendations that the Ombudsman specifically made to the provincial Health Department. The team will be supported by specialists in the mental health area.

This team, the MEC said, has already set up an information centre where families can call to obtain information related to patients that were transferred from Life Esidimeni Healthcare to different facilities including NGOs. 

Families can dial 011 564 2235/2215 for enquiries and the line operates 24 hours from Monday to Sunday.

“We want to reach out to all affected families. The public can also use 082 809 0131 to SMS/WhatsApp. We are also setting up a dedicated 0800 number,” said MEC Ramokgopa.

She said the Rapid Intervention and Response Team will provide weekly updates on the progress made.

“We will work with the 60-member group of experts appointed by the Minister of Health. I want to also announce that all vacant Hospital Boards positions and Clinic Committees will be filled and supported to be fully functional.

“We intend to give communities power to bring change in our facilities for the better of our quality health care.”

The provincial and national Departments of Health will continue to work with family representatives and constantly update them on progress made with regards to the recommendations.

“We recommit to make the health system more responsive to patients and families,” MEC Ramokgopa said. -

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