In a statement on Tuesday, Ramokgopa said the patients were among those discharged from Life Esidimeni facilities in 2015 and 2016. She said the department had “successfully transferred” 750 patients from these facilities to “unlicenced NGOs”, but that it had struggled to find 21 of them due to “poor record-keeping”.

A total of 144 psychiatric patients died after they were transferred by the Gauteng Department of Health from Life Esidimeni facilities to unlicenced NGOs.

Also on Tuesday, DA health spokesperson Jack Bloom issued a statement saying that Ramokgopa had revealed this information in response to his questions in the Gauteng provincial legislature.

According to Bloom, this meant that the department had made little headway in the last several months.

READ MORE: Gauteng Premier said Mahlangu told him deaths at Life Esidimeni were ‘normal’

By July, 20 patients were still missing, said Bloom. But by November, not only had there been no improvement, but the number of missing persons had actually increased by one.

Poor record keeping

Bloom said the likely cause was poor record-keeping. He said the list of missing people had contained duplicates, missing information and missing names.

He opened a case of 62 missing persons in January.

On 20 February, eight more patients were found by the police, Bloom said at the time.

In February, he said there were still 49 patients – of those he had reported to the police – still missing, 27 of whom did not have ID numbers. Seven of the missing patients did not have full names, he said.

READ MORE: R28m set aside to compensate Life Esidimeni families

In May, Bloom said that the list had been decreased to just 28 patients, TimesLive reported.

Public assistance

On Tuesday, Ramokgopa said the department was “concerned about the status quo” and called for assistance from the public to find the missing 21 patients.

She said the department was working with several state agencies – including the departments of Home Affairs and Social Development, the Special Investigating Unit and the police – to find the patients.

READ MORE: Gauteng govt compensates Life Esidimeni families ahead of deadline

Bloom said it was worrying that there had been no progress since July.

“It seems that the department has met a dead end in finding the remaining patients, as the number has not come down since July this year when I was told that there were 20 patients still missing.

“Sadly, many of these patients are probably dead, joining the 144 other patients who died as a result of the arrogance, cruelty and corruption that caused the Esidimeni horror. The terrible fate of the missing patients should be added to the charges faced by the perpetrators, who should be tried and punished in court as soon as possible,” he said.

– News24