Gauteng infrastructure development MEC Qedani Mahlangu. Picture: SOWETAN
The DA's Jack Blom says Gauteng health MEC Qedani Mahlangu is at fault for the death of 36 psychiatric patients. Picture: SOWETAN

AN INDEPENDENT investigation into the death of 36 psychiatric patients in Gauteng is being dealt with as a matter of urgency‚ the National Department of Health said on Wednesday.

The DA’s shadow MEC on health, Jack Bloom, welcomed the investigation, which he said needed "to be done speedily and professionally to ensure that no evidence is lost".

However, Bloom insisted that Gauteng health MEC Qedani Mahlangu was at fault and called for her to resign or be fired.

READ THIS: MEC Mahlangu digs in her heels on causes of deaths of 36 psychiatric patients

Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi’s spokesperson Joe Maila told 702: "Our view is that it [the investigation] must not take long. However‚ we are aware that it might ... because there are so many people involved ... but our view is that it must be as soon as possible."

Motsoaledi and Mahlangu had a marathon consultation meeting on Wednesday afternoon after claims emerged that 36 psychiatric patients in Gauteng had died after being transferred from Life Esidimeni into the care of nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) earlier this year.

Maila said: "An investigation has been launched by the health ombudsman so that we can know what happened in these incidents. The minister and the MEC both decided the matter has to be investigated properly because people are having all sorts of stories on what has happened‚"

The psychiatric patients were moved to 122 NGOs in the province after the department cancelled its long-running contract with Life Healthcare, which looked after about 2,000 patients.

The South African Depression and Anxiety Group on Wednesday described the deaths as alarming‚ and said it was "hoping for ... proper accountability".

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"The information that we are getting is not just because they are dying from a chronic illness‚ they are dying from things that should have been avoided or prevented. These are concerns that have been brought forward to the department and to [Mahlangu] over the last few months‚" said spokesperson Cassie Chambers.

Bloom said: "My view is that nearly all the 36 patients that have died in the last four months would probably still be alive if they were kept at Life Healthcare Esidimeni.

"She [Mahlangu] should resign or be fired by Premier David Makhura.

"The ultimate blame falls on Mahlangu who failed to take sufficient steps to ensure the orderly transfer of patients to reputable NGOs."

She had‚ Bloom said‚ "persisted in cancelling the long-running contract with Life Healthcare earlier this year despite warnings that more time was needed to find suitable alternative facilities".

"Her disclosure that patients were sent to NGOs without clinical files that included their medical histories shows how reckless these transfers were in putting patients at risk‚" he added.

"It was only after I asked an official question in the Gauteng legislature that she revealed the bombshell news that 36 patients had died in the NGOs in a period of about four months."

TMG Digital