'We asked for blankets from private hospital to help freezing patients'

October 27 2016. Prayer vigil to pay homage to the lives lost in the Esidimeni tragedy.
October 27 2016. Prayer vigil to pay homage to the lives lost in the Esidimeni tragedy.

A former Gauteng department of health official said she had to get blankets from a private hospital to make sure mental health patients did not freeze to death.

This was revealed by former Gauteng mental health deputy director Nonceba Sennelo at the Life Esidimeni Inquest on Monday.

The inquest aims to conclude if anyone can be held criminally liable for the deaths of 144 mental health patients who died from hunger and neglect.

Sennelo who was cross examined by her counsel, Adv Lisle Mboweni, said she found out that there were problems with the beds at Precious Angels and that it was cold. She also said there were no blankets and food and she reported this to her superior Dr Makgabo Manamela.

“When the MEC [Qedani Mahlangu] went to Precious Angels, it was reported that it had improved and that they even have a professional nurse...we managed to get blankets from one of the private hospitals,” she said.

Sennelo said she is unsure if food was provided for the patients after the complaints.

“I'm not sure if the food was also resolved but we never got more reports,” said Sennelo.

She said during the marathon project she was placed as an observer at the Waverly Care Centre and that the handing over of patients happened between Life Esidimeni clinicians and the NGOs clinicians or staff. 

Sennelo said the patients are handed over to the clinicians of the NGO or hospital but not to the Department of Health.

“I was just there to observe,” she said.

“The professional staff from Waverly would hand over to patients at the NGO. Life Esidimeni to the facility who comes to fetch the patients,” she said.

Sennelo said both Life Esidimeni and the NGOs or facilities would check the patient in the waiting room before they were taken to their new home.

“There were no complaints [from all parties] during that time,” she said.

Sennelo said there were complaints a few days later in Tshepong where a patient was sick.

“I personally went there and made sure the patient was admitted to Kalafong Hospital,” she said.

She said medical documents were handed from Life Esidimeni to the NGOs and they all checked that everything was there such as the medical summary and medical report.

“I did check the medicine and I noticed that they only gave seven days medication.”

She said she followed up on this at Precious Angels to make sure they got their additional medication but that the medication ran out before they got more medication.

'We contacted the district and informed them that these patients were only given seven days of medications..." said Sennelo

She said when the NGO was not helped at Atteridgeville clinic they got the district doctor to assist.

“After it was sorted out they were able to go to Atteridgeville for check ups,” she said.

She said she is not sure how long they were without medication. 

“If the department had followed the strategic plan and not rushed this plan then maybe things could have ended up differently,” she said.

“The time was not sufficient. The community was not prepared...there could have been an upscaled of community services so that patients can go closer to home and clinics could be ready.”

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