Doctors under siege: Motsoaledi
Unprecedented levels of litigation for alleged malpractice by doctors have crippled South Africa’s health system, Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said.
Speaking at a two-day medico-legal summit in Pretoria, Motsoaledi said student doctors were now reluctant to study obstetrics, gynaecology, neurosurgery, neonatology and orthopaedics.
“In our country, the cost of indemnity insurance for private specialists in neurosurgery increased by a whopping 573 percent within a period of eight years between 2005 and 2013, and is still going up,” said Motsoaledi.
“The cost of indemnity insurance for private specialists in obstetrics increased by 382 percent within a similar period and is still growing.”
Due to the steep escalation of lawsuits, Motsoaledi said some doctors have confessed to the Medical Protection Society that they were considering career changes or were now viewing patients as enemies.
“Those statements hold a potential disaster to the welfare of all women in our country because from where I am, we are getting reports that doctors are now reluctant to specialise in obstetrics and gynaecology.”
Some specialist doctors were refusing to attend to their clients, once they fall pregnant.
“Just close your eyes tightly and imagine a country with many super-rich lawyers but no obstetrician at all. That will be back to the Stone Age,” the Health Minister said.
“It is tantamount to declaring a death sentence to women and children.”
He said government was appointing an ombudsman to enforce matters of safety and welfare in the health department.
Where medical staff have allegedly digressed from set standards and norms, the ombudsman will investigate and ensure patient redress and system improvement.
Motsoaledi said some medical staff were “deliberately negligent”, and working in cahoots with lawyers.
“We are aware that these syndicates consist of lawyers and some within the health profession itself to make as much money from the State and other doctors as possible,” he said.
He said some syndicates in the State Attorney offices are mismanaging patients’ cases deliberately, so that government loses court cases and pays huge amounts of money as compensation.
“We are aware that some hospital CEOs are not doing anything to safeguard the welfare of patients but instead deliberately jeopardise the welfare of patients and immediately report to the legal members of the syndicates to start litigation,” Motsoaledi.
“We regard these people as having declared war on the health system of the country and hence will deserve no mercy when they are finally caught.”
A fear of litigation had resulted in doctors now performing tests for the benefit of lawyers and not the patients.
“Many patients are subjected to unnecessary physical and emotional pain and they also have to pay for these unnecessary tests,” said Motsoaledi.
Due to the high costs of indemnity that the medical practitioners have to pay, Motsoaledi said the specialist doctors have no option but to raise their fees.
“The healthcare budget will have to be increased tremendously just to cater for this escalating litigation. When budgets are forced to increase, taxes also increase, affecting the public,” he said.