Police confirm death at Tower Hospital *


Police confirm that a patient at Tower Psychiatric Hospital in Fort Beaufort died this week after complaining of a stomach ache. This comes following information from a confidential source within the facility that patients were allegedly served soup containing expired chicken livers the evening of Sunday, 20 May.

SAPS Eastern Cape Media Liason, Captain Khaya Tonjeni, confirmed the death at the hospital on Tuesday, 22 May .

“The patient had complained of stomach ache according to statements obtained,” said Tonjeni. “He later passed on before being taken to hospital. The cause of death is not known as yet, as we are still waiting for post-mortem results.”

Earlier this year Grocott’s Mail reported on claims made by former Tower psychiatrist and whistleblower, Kiran Sukeri. Sukeri’s original claims made in Rapport on 4 March highlighted alleged poor food quality within the institution. Sukeri alleged that patients were served “sardine soup” twice per week, in which one tin of fish fed roughly 10 patients.

Sukeri’s claims were later refuted by Eastern Cape Department of Health Spokesperson, Sizwe Kupelo.

Kupelo and former MEC for Health, Dr Pumza Dyantyi visited Tower on 5 March. “What we saw was a very different picture from what was reported,” Kupelo told News24, reported on 7 March.

Tower Hospital has been under investigation by the province and the Health Ombudsman since mid-March. The MEC’s task team investigation concluded on 24 March. A report detailing the findings of the investigation has since been submitted to the National Minister of Health, but has not yet been publicly released.

South African Society of Psychiatrists (SASOP) Eastern Cape Chairperson, Professor Zukiswa Zingela, confirmed this information. Zingela was part of the MEC’s task team but could not release information on the team’s findings at this time.

A confidential source from within Tower echoed Sukeri’s claims, alleging that the death of the patient was a result of Sunday’s soup. They stated that around 20 patients from different wards had become ill after that meal.

The source questioned the pace of the MEC’s investigation, stating that it had been months since Sukeri’s complaint and nothing had changed.

“If they are saying Dr Sukeri was lying, then what is happening now?”

“These chicken livers are old.”

A source from Tower’s food services believes the livers were past their expiry date. Photographs sent to Grocott’s Mail of the packaging displays “BB0218”, in other words, best by February 2018.

A closer look at the packaging shows a ‘best by’ date of February 2018. Photo: Supplied

Department of Health Spokesperson Sizwe Kupelo, told Grocott’s Mail on 29 May, ” We have written confirmation from the company explaining the labels. And that product will only expire in 2019.

“Food poisoning is a symptom of illness in this instance but did not suggest livers,” he added.

Grocott’s Mail has since requested this confirmation, as well as the company’s details for continued investigation.

Later on, Kupelo responded, quoting the company’s Quality Assurance Manager further clarifying the “traceability code” on the packaging.

The code I’m referring to is BB0218 -This code is not our best before date, it is our supplier traceability code (name of operator and the date the packaging has been produced). This has nothing to do with the expiry of that product – that is a separate date printed on the product.”

A leaked document from the institution outlines the course of action that was taken the day the patient died. The document states that three doctors were phoned when the patient’s condition worsened.

The document reads:

“[Doctor One] was notified at 8:35 about the user’s condition and said [they were]not around we should contact [Doctor Two] or [Doctor Three], both doctors were not found, phones were ringing with no answer.”

Allegedly at least one of the doctors was meant to be on call at the time of the incident.

[Doctor Three] arrived when the patient was deceased.

The document states that “before [Doctor Three] arrived the user vomited a brownish liquid and stopped breathing”.

The time span between the phone call to the first doctor and the arrival of the third doctor is noted as 15 minutes.

The patient was under the age of 50.

“If the doctors went there immediately they would have seen that the patient could have been transferred to the provincial hospital,” the confidential source said. 

The source said the death of the patient could have been avoided.

The Department of Health had been approached for comment on the death of the patient, as well as the potential cause, but could not submit a response at the time of the print publication deadline on 24 May. Kupelo confirmed that a patient had died, but was still contacting relevant authorities.

A response was later submitted by the Department of Health stating that 37 patients had diarrhoea as a result of possible food poisoning, but had recovered after three days.

“The patient who died  [was]not because of diarrhoea, but [his]condition changed suddenly and a doctor was called and by the time he attended to him he unfortunately died.”
The response stated the results of the post mortem found that the patient had died of natural causes.
“The post mortem details results cannot be shared as that information is confidential.”
“The department regrets his passing on [and]we are trying to contact his next kin.”
The response further stated that samples of food and water had been collected to establish the cause of the illness.

Grocott’s Mail will continue to investigate.


* Edited 29 May at 9:10am to reflect recent comments from Department of Health Spokesperson, Sizwe Kupelo in light of allegations surrounding allegedly expired chicken livers. A correction was made to an attribution from the Superintendent General to Kupelo.

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