Former Life Esidimeni official denies involvement in the movement of patients
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The former director-general of clinical services at the Gauteng Department of Health was questioned at the Life Esidimeni inquest on why he had recommended an NGO which reported on the 10 deaths of psychiatric patients.
Dr Richard Lebethe took the stand at the inquest yesterday.
He was the acting head of clinical services when the Life Esidimeni project was undertaken by the Gauteng department of health.
The inquest is investigating whether anyone should be held criminally liable for the deaths of 144 psychiatric patients who died after they were moved to several NGOs in 2016.
The hearings are being heard virtually by the High Court in Pretoria.
Lebethe, during questioning, repeatedly distanced himself from active involvement in the project to move psychiatric patients from Life Esidimeni.
He insists he only became involved once the deaths were reported at some of the NGOs.
Advocate Lufuno Maphanywa questioned Lebethe on the deaths reported at Takalani, an NGO in Soweto.
A total of 15 died at the facility.
Maphanywa asked Lebethe why he had recommended the NGO.
Lebethe had visited the NGO before patients were allocated to it and recommended its appointment.
He said he had visited Takalani and saw it fit to provide accommodation for the patients.
“Takalani was an active NGO; there was a ward placed aside for the use by mental health users and there was a plan to transfer them there. I was in Bara and had a look at it and walked around,” he told the inquest.
Maphanywa attempted to question Lebethe on what he made of the final outcome with 15 patients dead and him knowing he had recommended the NGO.
The evidence leader, Pieter Luyt, interjected and objected to the question’s relevance.
The question was later dismissed by Judge Mmonoa Teffo.
In the second part of his cross-examination, Lebethe was questioned by advocate Thabang Pooe, who represents 44 families of the patients who died.
Pooe focused on questioning Lebethe based on his denials that he was never actively involved in the project to move patients.
He denied knowledge of two letters and correspondence from concerned health officials who warned against moving psychiatric patients in large groups.
Lebethe was also asked about correspondence from Life Esidimeni Group who had written to the department, with Lebethe included, raising concerns about the massive movement of patients.
Lebethe said he could not remember any of these emails and messages.
Pooe asked whether, since he insisted he was busy and was not involved in the project's meetings, he had attempted to catch on to decisions taken.
Lebethe said he tried to do so.
He also denied attending meetings despite evidence from witnesses stating that he was present in the meeting which discussed the moving of patients.