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Life Esidimeni transfer process not done in best interest of patients, former nursing manager testifies

Members of the Treatment Action Campaign protest outside the Emoyeni Conference Centre where the Life Esidimeni arbitration took place in 2018 in Johannesburg. (Photo: Gallo Images / Daily Sun / Lucky Morajane)

Life Esidimeni Waverley staff had never heard of some of the NGOs the patients were being transferred to.

Zanele Buthelezi, a nursing manager at Life Esidimeni Waverley Care Centre at the time of the Gauteng Mental Health Marathon Project in 2016, again testified, on Monday, at the inquest into the death of 144 mental health patients in Gauteng who were moved from private healthcare provider Life Esidimeni to ill-equipped NGOs.

Buthelezi testified that she had been at a meeting in March 2016 with Gauteng Department of Health (GDoH) staff and mental healthcare users’ families where the transfer of patients from Life Esidimeni was discussed.

She said her impression of former GDoH MEC Qedani Mahlangu, who had arrived late for the meeting, was that of someone who was “arrogant” in her response to Life Esidimeni and families’ questions about the patients’ transfer.

Buthelezi said families were unhappy with the move and wanted to know what would happen if they didn’t want their loved ones moved from Life Esidimeni. Mahlangu had replied that families would have to negotiate that directly with Life Esidimeni as the GDoH would no longer be involved.

Buthelezi told the inquest that Life Esidimeni Waverley staff had never heard of some of the NGOs to where the patients were being transferred. They had asked for details, such as the numbers of medical staff and social workers at the NGOs and the criteria for the selection of the NGOs, but the GDoH failed to provide these.

To this, legal counsel for Dr Makgabo Manamela, the former head of the GDoH, said Manamela would submit evidence stating that the reason Buthelezi may not have known some of the NGOs was because they were new, as NGOs they had dealt with in the past were full and unable to take on new patients.

Buthelezi further testified that initially the GDoH had followed the Life Esidimeni discharge procedure, but then the number of patients to be discharged and the discharge procedure became rushed and there were complaints that some of the NGOs were not ready to receive the patients.

Buthelezi explained that one of the concerns with the transfer was that some of the patients were prone to relapsing and were not suitable for placement in NGOs, while 60% were not dischargeable.  

She said all of the 580 patients from Waverley, except for 38, were discharged by 31 May 2016 as they were unable to be placed because all the NGOs were full. She denied that they were malnourished, dehydrated or in a bad state when they were discharged. 

Buthelezi said the Marathon Project deviated from Life Esidimeni processes and that, in her view, it was not done with the best interest of the patients in mind. DM/MC

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