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Transfer of mental health patients a collective decision, former Life Esidimeni nursing manager testifies

Protesters at the Life Esidimeni hearings. (Photo: Joyrene Kramer)

Former Life Esidimeni nursing manager Zanele Buthelezi testifies 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.

Former Life Esidimeni nursing manager Zanele Buthelezi on Wednesday testified that the decision on which patients were to be transferred from the private healthcare provider was a collective one between government officials and Life Esidimeni officials.

Buthelezi said that Life Esidimeni had advised the Gauteng Department of Health (GDoH) that some patients were not suitable to be placed in NGOs. However, she said, it was the GDoH that ultimately decided on the NGOs where patients would be taken.

Buthelezi said that when patients were being trialled for transfer, the process at first took seven days, before it was extended to 14 days and then a month.

She said that initially during trial transfers, patients transferred from Life Esidimeni who were “not coping” at NGOs were sent back to Life Esidimeni, but later they were sent to hospitals instead.

Buthelezi said staff at Life Esidimeni would sometimes get emails overnight with additional lists of patients to be transferred the next day, when people had already left work and could not prepare patients accordingly.

She said it was not possible to assess the suitability of patients for discharge within a day.

Buthelezi testified that not all patients were able to be given a leave of absence in order to visit family and this was in regards to the 60% of patients Buthelezi spoke of earlier in the week who were not transferable because of the severity of their psychiatric conditions.

She said that the fact that there were sections on the reports of some of the patients marked as incomplete, such as “incomplete nursing interventions” did not mean that patient care was remiss but pointed to a problem with “administrative issues”. DM/MC

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