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‘No one should get away with what happened to Esidimeni patients’

Professor Ames Dhai says no official should be allowed to get away with just saying they were under pressure from another.

Professor Ames Dhai giving testimony at the Esidimeni arbitration hearing on 18 January 2018. Picture: Masego Rahlaga/EWN.

JOHANNESBURG - A bioethics and medical law expert says none of the Gauteng Health Department officials involved in the Esidimeni tragedy should not be excused just because they say they were following instructions.

Professor Ames Dhai testified at the Life Esidimeni arbitration hearings on Friday.

Over 140 mentally ill people died after the department terminated its contract with the mental healthcare group, transferring them to NGOs that were later found to have been operating unlawfully.

Dhai says no official should be allowed to get away with just saying they continued with the Esidimeni project because of pressure from another.

“The human dignity of our patients is not negotiable, whether there’s an order or not, that is non-negotiable.”

This is after deputy director of mental health services in Gauteng Hannah Jacobus admitted to flouting the law when licensing NGOs earmarked to care for Esidimeni patients, saying she was pressurised to do this.

Jacobus is not the only senior health official that has blamed her actions on pressure.

But Dhai says this is still unacceptable because all health workers take oaths.

“Once one takes an oath, one needs to abide by that oath, whether in a situation of conflict or not.”

Dhai also says health workers are bound by the ethical duty of reporting wrongdoing no matter how powerful the wrongdoer may be.

APOLOGIES

Jacobus has apologised to the families of Esidimeni patients, saying she feels useless and knows she let them down.

She also testified for a second day on Friday.

Jacobus sobbed as she looked at family members gathered there and apologised for what she says was her failure to protect the rights of mentally ill people.

“I really regret the non-action, I really apologise to the families.”

Jacobus says she still goes through pain and is embarrassed because she didn’t do enough to stop the transfers.

“It’s so humiliating and I feel so useless.”

Former Gauteng health MEC Qedani Mahlangu is expected to take the witness stand on Monday.