NGO fingers health department bosses at inquest

Concerns about movement of Esidimeni patients were 'ignored'

Former director of mental health in the department of health in Gauteng Dr Makgabo Manamela.
Former director of mental health in the department of health in Gauteng Dr Makgabo Manamela.

The first witness into the Life Esidimeni inquest, Cassey Chambers, said her organisation, the SA Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag), was sidelined and ignored by the Gauteng department of health when they raised concerns about mental health patients being moved to ill-equipped facilities and nongovernmental organisations.

In her testimony Chambers fingered officials Dr Makgabo Manamela, Dr Barney Selebano and Qedani Mahlangu as some of those who told Sadag that the termination project was under control when they showed concern.  

“We had various meetings and 14 formal letters where we submitted and raised our concerns in writing. We raised this over and over again. We offered our expertise, consultation and support and these were ignored,” said Chambers.

She was being cross-examined by lawyers and the National Prosecuting Authority on Monday in an effort to find out if criminal charges can be pursued against officials involved in the 144 unnatural deaths.

Chambers, who has worked at Sadag for 15 years and is now the operations director, said some NGOs were not getting paid subsidies and were unable to provide basic needs for patients.

“We heard of patients having to share meds, caregivers not having transport to get patients to clinics. A lot of patients had arrived without their medication and the NGOs didn't know what illnesses they had... there was also those going hungry and these NGOs did not know what to do,” she said.

Chambers said they would encourage NGOs to report these issues to the department of health, including to the office of Dr Manamela.

“We would also document these concerns and follow up on these concerns... they were definitely aware,” said Chambers.

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