Delivering the State of the Nation Address (SONA) in Parliament on Thursday, the President said government is deeply distressed by the death of so many psychiatric patients in Gauteng.
This follows the recent report released by the Health Ombudsman, Professor Malegapuru Makgoba, after his investigation into circumstances surrounding the deaths of mentally ill patients in Gauteng. The report revealed that 94 mentally ill patients died after being removed from the Life Healthcare Esidimeni to 27 non-governmental organisations.
“Mentally ill patients are some of the most vulnerable members of society, who need protection from the state itself and society as a whole.
“We welcome the recommendation of the Health Ombudsperson that there is an urgent need to review the National Health Act 2003 and the Mental Health Act 2002 with a view that certain powers and functions revert back to the National Minister of Health.
“Once more, we extend our heartfelt condolences to all families and relatives of the deceased,” said President Zuma.
He said government will provide support so that families do not face the burden alone.
“The Premier of Gauteng and the Minister of Health have already provided this assurance.”
Suspension of health senior officials
Gauteng Premier David Makhura has placed the Head of the Department of Health, Dr Tiego Selebano, on precautionary suspension in line with the ombudsman’s recommendation.
The Director of Mental Health in the department, Dr Makgabo Manamela, has also been served with a notice of intention to suspend her, also in line with the recommendations.
In line with the public service regulations, the Director has 48 hours to respond and give reasons why she should not be suspended.
Upon the release of the report, it was announced that Qedani Mahlangu had tendered her resignation as the Gauteng MEC of Health and a member of the Gauteng Provincial Legislature. Dr Gwen Ramokgopa was sworn in as a Member of the Gauteng Provincial Legislature and appointed as MEC for Health on Monday.
The Premier has appointed Dr Ernest Kenoshi as the Acting Head of Department of Health.
Task team hard at work
Meanwhile, the task team consisting of senior officials; specialists in the area of mental health: doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists, nurses, occupational therapists; civil society organisations and family representatives, are continuing with their work to inspect the various NGOs that have patients who were transferred from Life Esidimeni.
The Gauteng Provincial Government on Thursday said the task team has so far visited 20 NGOs and this process will be concluded by Friday.
“The team is also working towards identifying institutions that are well-equipped to care for the mental health patients in compliance with the Mental Health Care Act (2002),” said the provincial government.