File picture: Jacques Naude/African News Agency (ANA)
Cape Town - The National Treasury has warned of the escalation of medical claims after a steep increase from R28.6 billion to R80.4bn in a period of three years.

This has forced provincial departments of health to divert funds from key services to pay out claims, putting their budgets under enormous pressure.

The government has put in place various measures to deal with unjustified claims, including legislative amendments.

In the budget review, the National Treasury said while patients have the right to lodge claims for negligence, the claims have risen disproportionately in the provinces in the recent past.

“Patients have the right to compensation for injuries resulting from medical negligence.

“However, the number of and value of claims lodged against provincial departments of health in recent years appear to have risen disproportionately,” said the Treasury.

It said claims rose from R28.6bn in 2015 to a staggering R80.4bn last year.

During the same period, it said payments for claims “increased from R498.7 million to R2.8bn”.

“The mounting value of claims puts enormous pressure on provincial health budgets, with departments increasingly forced to divert funding from service provision to pay these claims,” stated the Treasury.

It said there were various reasons for the increase in medical claims, including poor health care, poor patient record-keeping and legal capacity and the litigious behaviour of law firms.

However, the Treasury said a number of measures were being taken to fix the problem.

These would include focusing on areas where claims were high, improving patient record-keeping and hiring more medical specialists.

Regularly inspecting hospitals and clinics for compliance with norms and standards, tightening up medico-legal units in provinces and introducing more specialists in that area were also cited as necessary steps.

In addition, the government was considering amending the law to allow for periodic payments of claims instead of lump sums.

This would give provincial departments of health the space to use their funds where they need them most, on key basic services, instead of paying large claims.

Three years ago, provincial departments complained in Parliament about the rise in medical claims which were straining their budgets.

The Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng were three large provinces with most of the medical claims.

The MECs in the provinces had also complained to MPs that some claims were unjustified and accused some law firms of abusing the system.

Political Bureau