Health department has coughed up R23.6bn over last four years as medico-legal claims soar

Kader September, 48, of Clarke Estate is asking the Provincial Health Department for R10 860 000 in damages after he was left with paralysis of his lower limbs, loss of control of his bowel and urination. Supplied pic

Kader September, 48, of Clarke Estate is asking the Provincial Health Department for R10 860 000 in damages after he was left with paralysis of his lower limbs, loss of control of his bowel and urination. Supplied pic

Published Mar 23, 2024


Cape Town - In the past four years, the National Department of Health has coughed up R23.6 billion following medico-legal claims across the country, while in the Western Cape 270 claims have been paid with a whopping R501 million price tag and R34m for legal costs.

This is just the tip of the iceberg as medico-legal battles continue at the Supreme Court of Appeal and Western Cape High Court involving mass claims of gross negligence, misdiagnosis and specifically cases relating to obstetrics and gynaecology, where infants were left with cerebral palsy and women with medical complications and conditions after birth.

In one matter, a 16-year-old girl and her family from Saldanha are taking on the Health Department, asking for damages totalling R9 749 465, claiming she had lost significant hearing and had had to be taught sign language and will wear a hearing aid for the rest of her life.

The matter has since received acceptance by the State and is now proceeding with an outcome, according her lawyer, Tzvi Brivik, director at Malcolm Lyons and Brivik Inc, attorneys who specialise in personal injury and labour law.

Another claimant is Kader September, 48, a vendor from Clarke Estate, Elsies River, who became a paraplegic in 2013 and is asking the Health Department for R10 860 000 in damages.

He claims that the Elsies River Community Health Centre and the Neurological Department at Tygerberg Hospital had neglected to offer professional care, arrange follow up consultations and treatment while he suffered complaints of lower back pain, leading down to his hip and right leg, and that after post-operative treatment he suffered paralysis to his lower limbs and loss control of his bowel and urination.

His matter is still under litigation, Brivik said.

According to Brivik, who spoke on behalf his clients, such cases were just a drop in the ocean for the Western Cape.

Brivik furnished the Weekend Argus with their court documentation.

“We have a number of cerebral palsy cases which arose due to traumatic birth and this means treatment for life.

“A mother is told to sit somewhere during childbirth or to wait and they are left to deliver by natural labour and caesarean is not being offered, which should be an option in some cases.”

Michele Clarke, DA health spokesperson, reacted to the R23.6bn that had been paid following medico-legal claims.

“This figure is staggering, especially considering the widespread shortages of healthcare funding across our provinces.”

In the Western Cape, Dwayne Evans of the Provincial Health Department revealed that between January 1, 2020 to December 31, 2023, 267 claims were filed and 124 were settled with a final court order.

Evans said via documentation provided that legal costs mounted to R34 million while claims were R501 million.

When asked if he could determine which health complaints constitute the bulk of the cases, he said it would take time for their departments to state it on record.

Clarke further said a total of 3 522 claims were filed, in places such as Limpopo which had a quarter (903) of claims, followed by KwaZulu-Natal with over a fifth (779).

“Also notable is the omission of the Eastern Cape’s figures, as the province is still verifying its figures, but it is without doubt that the province will continue to have the highest claims filed, the highest legal costs and highest claims paid,” she added.

“Broken down in claims paid per province, KwaZulu-Natal has paid the most, with an eye-watering R8.67 billion paid. KZN is followed by the Free State, with R2.48 billion, and Gauteng with R1.89 billion.

“Broken down in legal costs per province, Gauteng spent the most, with R634 million, followed by KZN and Mpumalanga which spent R328 million and R224 million respectively.”

Foster Mohale of the National Department of Health, Minister of Health Dr Joe Phaahla’s office was also approached for comment but did not respond.

He said earlier that the medico-legal crisis continued to pose a challenge to many of the provincial departments as it impacts on the overall budgets and crippling healthcare provisions.

“We need a long-lasting solution to this, however, we continue to make progress in this regard,” he stated.

“In the last meeting it was agreed in a workshop, which took place and there are several recommendations that will be presented here which we will need to implement whilst we await the South African Law Commission to finalise its report and present final recommendations to the government,” he said.

Go Legal News and Insight said earlier this month that medical practice claims also included claims for blindness in infants due to the eye disease known as retinopathy of prematurity (ROP).

Advocate Ronel van Zyl, a senior advocate for the South African Law Reform Commission was quoted saying that malpractice claims for retinopathy of prematurity were very common but could not be reached for comment by the Weekend Argus.