Medical malpractice claims against Gauteng government top R21bn
Johannesburg - The Gauteng provincial government has hailed mediation processes undertaken by various law firms to prevent the government from facing a huge number of medical-legal claims following various incidents of medical malpractice at public health institutions.
This was the word from Gauteng government spokesperson Thabo Masebe following the latest ruling of the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria, finding the provincial health department liable to pay about R1.1 million in damages to the mother of a 2-year-old girl who died following complications she suffered at a public hospital.
Masebe’s reaction came after DA health spokesperson Jack Bloom said the latest ruling was an indication that the claims were on the increase.
“The Gauteng Health Department’s potential medical liability has increased enormously as a result of a groundbreaking judgment ‒ R1.1m in damages awarded to the mother of a 2-year-old girl who died at a public hospital.
“Courts have previously not ordered payouts after the death of a child patient because pain and suffering was not usually recognised, and no loss of earnings capacity can be calculated if the patient was not a breadwinner,” Bloom said.
He said the recent judgment by Pretoria High Court acting Judge Brad Wanless, that the Natalspruit and Chris Hani Baragwanath hospitals were negligent by failing to speedily diagnose the child’s brain condition and treat her properly, illustrated this.
“Judge Wanless commented on the mother’s trauma as she had to face her little daughter’s constant crying and inability to eat. He also recognised that, “No amount of monetary compensation will ever be enough to alleviate a parent’s loss of a child. Particularly so when the child is so young.”
“In other cases of brain damage of a child, the compensation ordered was mostly for the cost of future care and medical expenses,” Bloom said.
According to the Gauteng Health Department’s latest annual report, the amount of medical-legal claims was R21.2 billion, with new claims for R1.9 billion made in the preceding year.
Bloom said the department has to fork out about R300 million a year for court-ordered negligence payments, mostly for babies who were brain-damaged at birth but still alive.
“There is extra liability now as a court could order damages to the parent of a baby or child who died because of medical negligence.
“This latest judgment gives added urgency for the department to radically improve medical treatment to minimise the huge suffering caused by medical mistakes in public hospitals,” Bloom said.
But Masebe was confident on Sunday that the settlement of medico-legal claims against the Gauteng government had improved significantly compared to past years when the courts issued a number of default judgments against it.
“The number of medico-legal cases will continue to go up but through interventions we made, we’ve prevented a number of cases not appearing in courts through mediation.
“These interventions had prevented the government from paying lots of money. Mediation processes are helping the government settling cases with the complainants ahead of the matters going to court. There are cases that end up in court but there are few of them compared to the past,” Masebe said.