‘The department of health lied to the court’: Life Esidimeni psychiatrist

14 November 2017 - 17:24 By Kgaugelo Masweneng
Retired Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke is heading the arbitration hearings between the State and the families of victims in the Life Esidimeni tragedy.
Retired Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke is heading the arbitration hearings between the State and the families of victims in the Life Esidimeni tragedy.

The Gauteng department of health lied to the court‚ and this act of perjury allowed the first move of Life Esidimeni patients‚ a specialist psychiatrist has told the Life Esidimeni arbitration.

Dr Mvuyiso Talatala‚ who was chair of the South African Society of Psychiatrists (Sasop) when the move started‚ testified for a second day in the Life Esidimeni arbitration on Tuesday.

In December 2015‚ the SA Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag) and Sasop took the health department to court to stop the transfer of mentally ill patients into NGOs. They reached a settlement.

Talatala explained that in March 2016‚ government started discharging around 50 mentally ill patients from Life Esidimeni into a home for intellectually disabled children. Sasop‚ Sadag and others asked the court for an urgent interdict to stop the transfer of patients to unlicensed NGOs‚ saying the government had breached the settlement.

They lost their bid.

Talatala said this was because the Gauteng government lied to the court by claiming the patients were “ready to be discharged”. The department had argued that a discharge means a doctor certifies that a patient is well enough to go home.

Talatala said that the way the department defined discharge to the court “gave an impression that patients were well and could be sent back home”‚ something he and other medical experts disagreed with.

Talatala submitted that the judgment allowing the move to go ahead relied heavily on the department's definition of “discharge”.

Talatala said that although patients' illness were contained at Life Esidimeni‚ they were not contained enough for them to be released into the community‚ as their release would result in further deterioration should they not receive proper care.

The interdict was also meant to stop the transfer of patients to the Takalani Home for intellectually disabled children‚ since the admission would disadvantage the children at the facility.

By transferring mentally ill adults patients to Takalani‚ Talatala was of the view that “a risk was posed to original Takalani mental-health users”‚ the aforementioned children.

“It would be difficult for a facility to cater for children and adult patients [in] the same space‚” said Talatala.

Talatala said that Sasop and others did not appeal the court's decision because “in medicine‚ time will tell the truth”.

A high number of patients died at Takalani.

In the first day of his testimony‚ the psychiatrist told the arbitration hearing that Sasop had previously warned the department in writing of the risks involved in moving the Life Esidimeni patients.

Former Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke‚ who is conducting the hearings‚ thanked Talatala for his contribution to the inquiry and his efforts to stop the transfers. After his testimony‚ patients’ families at the hearings ululated and applauded him.