Gauteng Health MEC Nomathemba Mokgethi has admitted that her department was still searching for eight mental health patients who were reported missing at Life Esidimeni, almost five years ago. The Star reports that Mokgethi made the shocking revelations in her written reply in the Gauteng provincial legislature to questions by the Democratic Alliance’s spokesperson on health Jack Bloom.
Bloom had asked the MEC to provide details on the number of mental health patients who have not been located or accounted for and what efforts have been made to find them.
The Star reports that in her reply, Mokgethi placed the number at eight despite scepticism from the Life Esidimeni family committee that more patients were still unaccounted for. But Mokgethi maintained that her department had conducted home visits for those whose addresses were provided, including contacting the Home Affairs Department and the SA Social Security Agency (Sassa) for assistance.
She said a case of missing patients had been opened with the police to assist in locating them saying her department was continuously checking for the patients at all facilities in case new information emerged.
According to Mokgethi, the reason for the delay was due to the fact that it was “difficult and time consuming to trace for patients” if their personal information was not available. “Home Affairs and Sassa could not trace patients without ID numbers. Date of birth provided do not exist and phone numbers of family members and home addresses provided are incorrect. Some calls go to voicemail,” she said.
Mokgethi, however, remained hopeful that the patients could still be found, saying: “Once accurate information of patients is made available or found, it will be easy to make an assessment as to where the patients are/were located.”
Despite the glitches, Mokgethi said their investigations were continuing. The Star reports that asked what is the likelihood that any missing patients are still alive, Mokgethi said: “Only if the correct information about the mental health-care user is found, we will be able to confirm the status quo.”
Earlier this month, Life Esidimeni family committee spokesperson Christine Nxumalo made the plea to health officials who knew about the fate of these patients to avail themselves and testify at the planned inquest hearing this month.
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