Press Release: SAFMH Condemns Reports of Mental Health Care User Deaths

SAFMH News Room



The South African Federation for Mental Health would like to express our utter dismay at the report that 36 psychiatric patients transferred from the Life Healthcare Esidimeni facilities earlier this year have died while in the care of NGOs. This information, which was disclosed yesterday by the Gauteng Health MEC in an oral reply to questions by DA Shadow Health MEC Jack Bloom, show the level of mistreatment of mental health care users in Gauteng.

The psychiatric patients were relocated to 122 NGOs after the department cancelled its contract with Life Healthcare which looked after almost 2000 patients. At the time of the cancellation of the contract, the Gauteng Department of Health claimed that terminating the contract was part of the process of deinstitutionalisation, and that the money saved from the contract would go towards upscaling other mental health services, all of which it claimed was in line with the National Mental health Policy Framework. It is now clear however that the Gauteng Department of Health has disregarded its commitment to the National Mental Health Policy Framework, as the primary goal of the policy is to ensure that mental health care users are able to live with dignity and receive quality health care services.

Throughout the process of the closure of the Life Esidimeni facilities, and the relocation of the patients, SAFMH and other partners have been vocal in our concerns regarding how the process has been handled, as patients, their families and community NGOs were not properly consulted, and it was clear from the beginning that was a serious shortage of NGOs with proper facilities and resources to give the Life Esidimeni patients the high levels of care that they require. However the Department ignored all of these concerns, and it is now becoming clear what a high price mental health care users are paying for this.

SAFMH believes that the Department should immediately employ measures to prevent further deaths, at any costs, as well as immediately starting a process of intensive upscaling for NGOs, as it is clear that not providing NGOs with enough support and resources have led to an unacceptable amount of casualties. A thorough investigation is also needed to determine the exact cause of death of all 36 mental health care users. Government needs to show its commitment to implementing the Mental Health Policy Framework by ensuring that something like this never happens again, and by providing mental health care users in Gauteng as well as the rest of South Africa with the services and care that are their legal right.

Marthé Viljoen
Programme Manager: Information & Awareness
SA Federation for Mental Health
Tel: 011 781 1852

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