The Lives of the mentally ill Matter: Bishop in South Africa
The Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference || By Bishop Abel Gabuza || 19 September 2016
Protecting their lives is more important than achieving budget efficiency and optimal profits – SACBC Justice and Peace Commission
We find it morally unacceptable that 36 psychiatric patients died within months of being moved from the Life Healthcare Esidimeni Centre to local NGOs and other facilities, without any intervention by Gauteng Health Department.
The families and the whole country need answers. We send our heartfelt condolences to all affected families.
While awaiting the results of the investigation by the health department, we wish to register our deep concern that Gauteng health department did not heed to warnings from the civil society and the families that the cancelling the contract with Esidimeni Centre and the transfer of patients should not be rushed.
We have noted that the health department terminated its agreement with Life Esidimeni because it was costing R11,343 per patient per month – adding up to almost R324-million a year. Such exorbitant cost of mental health services at Life Esidimeni should remind us of the deep crisis that we face as a country with respect to the cost of health care. We therefore continue to ask the health department to put adequate measures to ensure sustainable levels of control to health care costs. We reiterate our position that a health system that puts profit before people, and without adequate measures for cost control, is both unsustainable for the country and a death sentence to the poor.
We also warn the health department not to use its current policy on deinstitutionalisation of mental health care, as outlined in the Mental Health Act and in the Mental Health Policy Framework and Strategic Action Plan 2013- 2020, as a pretext to shirk on its constitutional responsibilities to provide adequate care to the mentally ill.
As a society, we should never forget that the lives of the mentally ill are precious before God. The lives of the mentally ill should therefore be considered to be more important than the dictates of fiscal efficiency and profit making.