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We had to organise food for Life Esidimeni patients after transfer to NGOs, Gauteng health official testifies

Members of the Treatment Action Campaign protest outside the Emoyeni Conference Centre where the Life Esidimeni arbitration took place on 22 January 2018 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo: Gallo Images / Daily Sun / Lucky Morajane)

Dr Richard Lebethe also testified that some of the NGOs to which Life Esidimeni patients were being transferred were unsuitable for the patients.

Dr Richard Lebethe, deputy director-general at the Gauteng Department of Health (GDoH), on Thursday testified at the Life Esidimeni inquest into the deaths of 144 mental health patients that a number of the patients had died from strokes and others of natural causes after being transferred to NGOs from Life Esidimeni. 

Asked by evidence leader advocate Louis Luyt what role he played in the planning of the marathon project of transferring the mental healthcare users to NGOs, Lebethe said: “I didn’t play a major active role in that most of the time I was unavailable. In fact, I didn’t attend the project team meetings.”  

Luyt told the inquest that one of the 144 patients who died was Samson Nhlapu, with the cause of death from the autopsy being reported as a “haemorrhagic induction”. He asked Lebethe what this meant.  

“It means the patient had a pre-existing disease like hypertension,” said Lebethe. 

Luyt asked Lebethe why he specifically asked for this patient to be autopsied if it was clear that he died from natural causes.  

“I think the MEC was called to be told about this mental healthcare user… and the fact that he was about to be buried… at that time I think the Ombuds had started investigating these incidents, it was necessary that this patient be ‘postmortemed’ and it’s on those basis that I pushed so hard to have the postmortem,” answered Lebethe. 

He testified that he had visited some of the NGOs to which Life Esidimeni patients were being transferred and found some unsuitable for patients – for instance, some were in mountainous areas and some had lots of steps, which would create difficulties for patients.  

He said that at the Amandasig NGO there was no food for patients to eat and that he had to organise food for them and that they were threatening to close down because they had not received payment from the GDoH.  

Lebethe denied ever having received complaints from GDoH officials or  NGOs regarding problems with Life Esidimeni’s participation in the transfer process. DM/MC

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