Judge slams Gauteng Health MEC over medical megligence

Jack Bloom MPL

DA Gauteng Shadow Health MEC

Today is the deadline for Gauteng Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu to respond to an order by a South Gauteng High Court judge to explain why she should not pay for the punitive legal costs of a medical negligence trial out of her own pocket.

Last week Acting-Justice Ronée Robinson said in a scathing judgement reported on by Moneyweb that she “cannot appreciate why the taxpayer should bear the sole brunt of the failure by the public service to perform its duties adequately”.

The case concerns negligence by the Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Hospital in delaying treatment for nearly two hours to Vuyusile Eunice Lushaba in June 2000 when she gave birth to her son, Menzi. He was born with spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy as a result of the delay and can neither sit nor walk. Lushaba sued the MEC for Health in 2012, and the matter was heard earlier this month.

Acting-Judge Robinson slammed MEC Mahlangu for defending the matter on spurious grounds. “The defendant’s persistent denial of negligence raises concerns that it persists in not appreciating its obligation towards the public it is meant to serve.”

The judge also commented on “the lamentable conduct of the litigation by the State Attorney,” including failure to appear in court and to comply with time periods and court orders.

When the matter was argued in court, Acting-Judge Robinson asked counsel appearing for the MEC to make written submissions why she should not lumber the MEC (in her representative capacity) with a punitive costs order, but: “I received no such submissions.”

She noted: “Our Constitution and particularly the values enshrined in the Bill of Rights require committed service from the public sector, a commitment eerily absent in this case.”

She ordered that the MEC appear before her today (23 October) to show cause why she should not be ordered to pay the punitive costs out of her personal funds. Furthermore, if the MEC denies personal liability that she must then, under oath, “identify such persons in the department of Health of Gauteng, as well as such persons in the office of the State Attorney, who should be personally held liable for the costs as well as the reasons why they should be so held liable.”

I welcome the “get tough” approach by Acting-Judge Robinson in this matter.

Instead of being accountable for high claims for medical negligence, the Gauteng Health Department delays as much as possible without caring about court costs or the hardship of victims. According to Ms Lushaba’s attorney, she is so poor that that she carries her 14-year-old cerebral palsied son on her back because she has no money for a wheelchair.

The applicant is claiming about R14 million in damages in this case. Last year, the Department paid out R155 million for court-ordered damages for hospital negligence.

MEC Mahlangu needs to drastically improve medical care, fire her legal advisers and make a fair settlement with those who have been damaged by bad care in our hospitals.