R3 bn in Medical Negligence claims yet no one held accountable

By Jane Sithole, MPL, Spokesperson on Health and Social Development:

The department of health in Mpumalanga has, over the past two financial years, had medical negligence claims amounting to nearly R3 bn levelled against it.

In a response to a DA parliamentary question on the matter, Health MEC, Gillion Mashego stated that between the 2013/14 and the 2014/15 financial years the department has been notified of 343 legal cases totalling R2.9 bn and although the department has done their own investigation into these matters not a single departmental official has been held liable.

Click here to view response.

It is particularly concerning that patients sustain injuries while admitted into our public health facilities. 58% of the claims against the department are for injuries sustained while in public healthcare facilities, 34% are obstetrics and 3.7% orthopedic related.

These cases do not only highlight the areas where there is need for intervention but also the hospitals where the claims are originating from such as  Tintswalo Hospital which has the highest claims for the past two years for patient injuries in the hands of medical staff. Shongwe Hospital, Tintswalo Hospital, Themba Hospital and Matikwane hospitals have the most obstetrics related cases during the same period.

Our biggest concern is the amount of money being claimed for obstetric cases as many of the claims range from R5 million to R20 million.

The irony is that MEC Mashego has to continue curtailing departmental costs in order to pay legal fees and monies awarded to claimants, however the amounts being claimed by aggrieved patients in one financial year is already more than the budget for program 4 on provincial hospital services.

In the 2013/14 financial year this program received R947 million whilst the medical negligent claims for the same period was R1.2 billion. In the 2014/15 financial year the same program received R1 bn and medical negligence claims increased to R1.6 bn in the same year.

In his response, MEC Mashego stated that the department forfeited R220 thousand to patients for medical negligence in 2012/13 and at the same time also paid over R3 million in legal fees.

In the following financial year 2013/14 the department paid an excess of R44 million plus legal fees of over R6 million which are still outstanding.

Whilst the department and its legal team fights to get these claims reduced the sad part is that nothing is being done about the conditions that give rise to medical negligence claims.  These kind of claims will continue to escalate for as long as there is no strategy in place to address this or punitive measures for those who are responsible.  Patients need to be assured that they go to public health facilities to be healed and not to injured.