Deaths of psychiatric patients scandalous – COSATU

Federation says it is troubling that the full death toll has yet to be determined

COSATU’s reaction to the Health Ombudsman’s report on the death of psychiatric patients in Gauteng

1 February 2017

The Congress of South African has noted the report by the Health Ombudsman ,Professor Malegapuru Makgoba that shows that over 94 psychiatric patients died,  after being transferred to unregistered and ill prepared NGO facilities by the Gauteng Department of Health. This is a terrible tragedy that was simply preventable and we expect the provincial administration to act fast to ensure that this does not happen again in future.

What is even more troubling is that Professor Makgoba announced that the number of confirmed dead patients remains a provisional number and could be higher. It is scandalous that these vulnerable patients were handed over to NGO’s that were not properly licensed and that were ill prepared for the task at hand. It is appalling to know that the department failed to monitor these NGO’s. The evidence points to the fact that they literally dumped and abandoned these patients. 

We welcome the subsequent resignation of the Gauteng Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu ,as announced by the Premier of Gauteng, David Makhura, But we insist that there is an urgent need to restructure and sort out the source of this bureaucratic bungling that led to this tragedy in the entire department. It is the provincial department of health that needs to clean house because health is a provincial competency. COSATU, though ,also demands answers from the national department , they need to explain their own failures and account for their inaction and the general breakdown of the health system. They should account for failing to put together a coherent strategy and a solid plan to deal with mentally ill patients in this country. 

South Africa needs to revisit the way it treats and cares for people with mental illnesses. Government needs to make more resources available and also work to expand access to mental healthcare services. We restate our sincere commiserations to all the members of the affected families.

COSATU cautions against any attempts to opportunistically use this tragedy to promote outsourcing and further commodification of our health system. We reject any statement that seeks to imply that the answer to our healthcare challenges is for government to outsource its mandate and handover everything to the private sector. What this country needs is to strengthen and build government’s capacity to offer comprehensive healthcare to its citizens. We reject outsourcing or any proposal for government to handover psychiatric patients to private institutions.

Our healthcare problems can only be addressed by increasing citizens’ access to quality and affordable healthcare. South Africa’s constitution (section 27) instructs government to: take reasonable legislative and other measures, within its available resources, to achieve the progressive realisation of each of this right”.

This constitutional right has been undermined by the commodification of health in South Africa. The main cause of this is the unjust and biased national health financing structure of our healthcare.

 COSATU continues to argue that the only practical and reasonable solution is the introduction of a National Health Insurance. The main objective of this policy is to: provide universal access to quality health services; create a single fund to decrease financial risks associated with accessing health care ; procure services on behalf of the entire population and effectively mobilize and control key financial services; and  improve the under resourced public sector. We need to expedite the implementation of the NHI that will help government deliver on its constitutional mandate.

Issued by Sizwe Pamla, National Spokesperson, COSATU, 1 February 2017