KZN Health Department under fire as medical malpractice cases grow
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DURBAN - THE KwaZulu-Natal Department of Health has come under fire for failing to establish a panel of experts meant to help it contain its ballooning medical malpractice claims.
The panel, meant to be made up of legal and medical experts, was first proposed more than a year ago. It was meant to review all the medical claims against the department and decide which ones to settle or contest in court.
The proposal to establish a panel of experts came after concerns that the department was facing hefty medical claims from people who suffered adverse effects or injuries from hospital procedures. The Mercury understands that the medical claims against the department stand at R25 billion.
There were also concerns that some law firms were taking advantage of the situation. During a Health Portfolio Committee meeting last year, the department revealed that one Johannesburg law firm had filed numerous lawsuits in close succession.
“We do not know what is taking so long for this panel to be appointed, especially when so many of the skills that are needed are already in the province. This was first proposed almost two years ago and nothing has happened, the department is showing its incompetence in basic human resource management practices,” said the DA Health spokesperson Dr Rishigen Viranna.
Viranna said the claims against the department were sitting at R25bn, and the panel was supposed to help them decide which cases should be settled and those that would be negotiated.
He said negotiating these cases would help the department to avoid going to court and paying legal fees. It would also help them determine the cases that were a nuisance and that the department should contest.
“We have asked the department to provide us with information on why it is taking so long to establish this team and we are yet to get clarity,” he said.
In its response, extracted from Health MEC Nomagugu Simelane’s budget speech tabled recently, the department said the process of appointing the panel was in its final stages.
“We will appoint a panel made up of medical and legal experts who will be assessing cases and defending the department where necessary. In 2019, we spoke about a multi-pronged strategy towards the reduction of the medico-legal bill. We have since established a Medico-Legal Directorate, which is meant to help us reduce expenditure. We have also found that there have been some unscrupulous legal practitioners who have sought to defraud the system.
“We are instituting an investigation that will scrutinise whether the money that has been paid out by the department over the past five years has been used for purposes for which it was paid,” she said.
The department also revealed that it had taken steps to mitigate claims by establishing seven Centres of Excellence for the management of medicolegal cases, particularly regarding children born with cerebral palsy.