Medical negligence claims seem to be the bain of most provincial health departments’ existence. The Free State Health Department appears to be in a similar predicament to the Gauteng MEC (see our previous post). Their health MEC, Dr Benny Malakoane made some startling revelations recently.
Stats reveal that claims aren’t properly managed
– The department was (in June 2015) facing medical negligence claims totalling R703 million, arising from lawsuits that had been filed from 2004 to March 2015.
– The majority of lawsuit cases in the Free State were against two hospitals in Bloemfontein, the Universitas Academic Hospital and the Pelonomi Regional Hospital. (Universitas’s chief executive officer, said the reason these hospitals had the highest number of lawsuits was because they were referral hospitals dealing with complicated cases. He said the highest lawsuit claims were against the paediatrics and orthopaedics wards.)
– Justice Finger, senior legal advisor of the department, said in the past three financial years the department had paid out more than R18 million in concluded cases. Comment: this figure represents just 2.5% of total claims value.
– 11 cases had been concluded during the past three years of the 377 claims lodged over the past three financial years. Comment: This is a shocking statistic (just 3% of total claims finalised in the past 3 years) – justice delayed…
– “the money spent on litigation had had grave consequences for the department, and added that the lawsuit money could have been used to fund other essential needs of the department.” Paul’s comment: Given that the claims date back such a long time, it is reasonable to expect that they can be relatively quickly investigated and settlements negotiated without chasing up legal costs.
– An influx of patients, overcrowding, under-staffing at public health-care facilities and the negative attitude of some personnel were cited as possible contributors to the lawsuits. Malakoane said the department intended to claim damages of settled claims from implicated personnel. Paul’s comment: Our ailing public service needs leaders who shoulder responsibility, together with workers. As a nation, we seem to have developed a culture of always finding someone else to blame. In our experience in litigating against these departments, administration at the top levels is also lacking, with claims being ignored by the HODs until they have to be given attention when at the doors of court (with massive legal cost implications) – hopefully they will also shoulder some of the blame.
– He added that litigation was handled by state attorneys and the complainants. He said the department only became involved after cases had been concluded. When cases have been concluded, the department then conducts its own internal processes to establish who was at fault in the case where the courts have found the department guilty of medical negligence. Paul’s comment: The Department needs to take the lead if costs are to be saved. It doesn’t help to try and sort out the cause of a problem when it’s been wrung out by protracted litigation. Get in there and solve the problem when it arises.
Dr Malakoane spoke on Tuesday, 19 May, at the department’s provincial headquarters, Bophelo House in Bloemfontein, where he addressed the media about the adverse challenges facing the Department of Health.
Originally reported by News24 (click here to see their report).