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Medical malpractice follow global trend

By Time of article published Mar 9, 2011

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Recent years have seen an increase in the costs of medical indemnity insurance, driven by increased public awareness of malpractice and increased litigation. While, until recently, this was an exclusively international phenomenon it is now also true of South Africa.

“While a number of high profile settlements in favour of patients has established the trend in South Africa, it has been exacerbated by attorneys now actively pursuing medical negligence claims due to the high earning potential that they offer,” says Jerome Fanning, Client Services Manager, Alexander Forbes Risk Services.

The result is that the Medical Protection Society, which assists doctors with legal matters, is currently facing a backlog of more than 1000 complaints of negligence against South African medical practitioners.

While malpractice suits against plastic surgeons once grabbed the headlines, more recently, “obstetrics and gynaecology suits have featured more prominently in the media and, as a result, become more lucrative areas of litigation” reports Fanning. For example, the Medical Protection Society recently settled a single Gynaecology claim, worth R27 million.

As the costs of settling claims has increased membership of the Medical Protection Society of South Africa has remained static, seeing membership fees increase dramatically. In response, 2010 saw the Health Professions Council of South Africa strongly support recommendations that all medical practitioners take out professional indemnity cover.

The upshot is that, while the legislation is still being debated, including the level of minimum cover, “professional indemnity cover for all medical practitioners is likely to become absolutely necessary, even if it is not made compulsory, in the not too distant future” predicts Fanning.

With an 18% increase in the number of medical malpractice claims in excess of one million Rand over the last decade plus a 900% increase in claims over five million Rand “one can certainly understand the rash of radio and TV advertisements calling on patients to seek legal assistance at the hint of malpractice,” concludes Fanning. - I-Net Bridge

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