Out of a total of 155 medico-legal claims against the Eastern Cape Department of Health in the past three financial years (2014 to current), 151 cases were settled by the department, and only four cases were won, according to a response to legislature questions I asked the MEC of Health, Dr Pumza Dyantyi.
The MEC further states that if the State Attorney is of the opinion that if cases are indefensible, the department will opt for an out-of-court settlement.
It is believed that the reason for a number of medico-legal claims against the department is due to negligence brought on by critical staff vacancies. The money paid for medico-legal claims is a contingent liability and has a major adverse effect on the budget of the department. The MEC states in her response that the department is now taking money from its Goods and Service budget to pay for these medico-legal claims, which are standing at R17-billion.
In the meantime, the department has referred all medico-legal claims to the State Attorney. The department has paid over R204-million to the State Attorney from 2014 ‘till now. That is R204- million paid for only four successful outcomes and 151 settlements. This roughly translates to a payment of R1.3-million per case in payments to the State Attorney. The State Attorney clearly does not have the expertise to deal with the matter and is charging exorbitant fees.
What is going wrong at our state hospitals that the State Attorney only tried to defend 3.7% of medico-legal claims in the last three financial years? Are cases really undefendable or do the offices of the State Attorney not have the capacity to deal with these cases?
If the remainder of the R17-billion in medico-legal claims also goes undefended, the overwhelming cost will collapse the department. This means that the department will either have to reduce or consolidate its facilities or reduce its services to the public. At the end of the day, it is the people that will suffer, especially the poor, who rely on state medical care.
The Democratic Alliance wants the department to appoint a medico-legal expert to defend these claims against the state. The MEC stated that a bid process for the appointment of a panel of experts was already underway and that a service provider would be appointed by the end of July.
This service provider will be closely monitored. We want to see successfully defended cases and a reduction in settlements. We will also monitor the amounts paid to the service provider to ensure that there are no exorbitant payments.
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