Life Esidimeni death toll now at 141

The number of mental patients who died after being relocated from Life Esidimeni Healthcare to 27 NGOs has risen to 141, Gauteng Department of Health boss Ernest Kenoshi said on Friday at the arbitration hearing

Kenoshi said that the 23 patients died between February and September.

“Subsequent to February, after [the] Health Ombudsman [Malegapuru Makgoba] report was released, more deaths happened. So the number of deaths to date, adding the 118, is 141,” Kenoshi said.

Taken aback by the new revelation, Arbitration Chairman Dikgang Moseneke asked Kenoshi to repeat his statement.

”My goodness! You will have to say that again… 23 people died between February and September?”’

Kenoshi, who took over as Gauteng Department of Health boss after as the suspension of Barney Selebano, was under cross examination by the provincial department’s lawyer, Tebogo Hulamo. Kenoshi said that seven of the patients died at NGOs, while the other 16 patients died at state mental hospitals.

READ MORE: We made mistakes – Life Esidimeni project head

In February, Gauteng Premier David Makhura suspended Selebano in the wake of recommendations by Makgoba, following the deaths of 118 psychiatric patients at ill-equipped facilities of various NGOs.

The then Health MEC, Qedani Mahlangu, tendered her resignation as the saga unfolded.

At the time, Makgoba’s report stated that as many as 94 mentally ill patients, who were transferred from Esidimeni to unlicensed care centres, died of causes that included neglect and starvation.

The death toll figure rose over time as more information was discovered by Makgoba, bringing the number of deaths to 118, a figure he revealed while testifying before the inquiry earlier this week.

The department said that the Esidimeni contract was terminated in order to cut costs, put the contract out to tender and allow other service providers to come in.

Earlier, Kenoshi told the arbitration hearing that 26 post-mortems had been completed on 26 patients and that the reports were with the SA Police Service (SAPS). He added that most of the deaths occurred before the Esidimeni  tragedy, and that some patients were buried without post-mortems having been performed on them.

It was not known where some patients were buried, including those who were given pauper funerals by NGOs.

READ MORE: Life Esidimeni deaths now above 100, will rise – health ombud

Moseneke asked him who made the decision that the patients should be buried without post-mortem reports or consent from families. It emerged that most had “provisional natural death” stated as the cause of death.

“Part of the closure is to know where the bodies are buried, isn’t it? But I do not see places of burial in this schedule. Why?” Moseneke asked.

”I won’t be able to answer for managers of the NGOs, but we found that an NGO would call a private undertaker and arrange funeral with or without the consent of families unfortunately,” said Kenoshi. “We have been working hard, collating more information with the police and the NGOs. Quite a number of the NGOs did not keep proper clinical records of the patients.”

African News Agency (ANA)