Former Deputy Director-General of Clinical Services in the Gauteng Health Department, Dr Richard Lebethe will this morning face more questions during the Life Esidimeni inquest in the High Court in Pretoria.
The inquest is trying to establish who is liable for the deaths of 144 mentally patients when Life Esidimeni transferred them to various unregistered and ill-equipped non-governmental organisations. The causes of the deaths are said to include starvation and neglect. Former Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu subsequently shut down the Life Esidimeni centre in June 2016.
During cross-examination on Monday, Lebethe told lawyers of the families of the deceased that Mahlangu was the first person to tell him about the deaths. The first time you were told that there were eight deaths, you said that doctor it was when you told that by the MEC?
Dr: Yes I was told that in a context that worry, agitating and for the situation to be attended to. Yes, I did something about it. That thing was worked on the same night. And the following day that’s when I took the report to the Ombudsman.
Yesterday Lebethe told the court that the bodies of deceased Life Esidimeni psychiatric patients were only handed to the families for burial once postmortems were conducted. Lebethe said it was imperative to conduct the postmortems as this assisted in determining the cause of death. Most of them died during the transfer period to other NGOs in 2016.
“It happened, in some of the cases, that some of the bodies were collected by the families and were buried. The bodies that go to FPS, the specific natural deaths. But in the case of those, there’s possible litigation, dispute and the likes. But more importantly, is that the people who passed in institutions it becomes a postmortem so as to know the cause of death. Lebethe said he was not involved in vetting NGOs that mental health patients were sent to.
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