Life Esidemeni — the elephant in the room
For the past few months a lot of news coverage has been given to the deaths of mental patients removed from Life Esidemini facilities to those of unlicensed ?NGOs. Questions have been asked about why they were moved without adequate preparation, and who decided that they should be moved, and who selected the places they should be moved to. I have no comments top make on that, and I’m sure answers will eventually emerge from the current investigations.
What concerns me now are the questions that are apparently not being asked. Such as:
- What is Life Esidemeni?
- Who decided that they should be in Life Esidemeni in the first place?
- What policies lay behind that?
I suspect that the policies that lay behind it were related to neoliberal principles of privatisation and outsourcing.
The Department of Health outsourced the care of mental patients to Life Esidemeni, which was under contract. This proved too expensive, so they decided to look for cheaper alternatives.
The trouble with outsourcing such things is that providing such facilities costs a great deal of money, and people who tender for such a contract are not likely to do so if it is likely to be put out for tender again in a few years. To make life secure for mental patients, the Department of Health should provide its own facilities, or should at least own the land and building on which the facilities are locates, so that if they put it out to tender again they can at least disturb the life of patients as little as possible. If the contract proves too expensive, then there would be no need to move the patients.
It’s not enough to investigate this particular incident, but the policies that lie behind it also need to be scrutinised.