Health budget havoc Malpractice suits expose Gauteng to crippling compensation claims http://www.timeslive.co.za/local/article677188.ece/Health-budget-havoc
Sep 26, 2010 11:22 PM | By SALLY EVANS
The Gauteng Department of Health faces the possibility that it will have to pay R2-billion in compensation, a quarter of it for medical malpractice claims.
In the province's 2009-2010 annual report, "medico-legal claims" against the department were stated as R573-million, up from R447-million in the previous financial year.
Auditor-general Terence Nombembe raised concerns about the amount for which the department was successfully sued by victims of bad treatment and botched operations.
The biggest claim against the department was R1.5-billion in connection with the allegedly premature termination of contracts, two of which were with consultants.
The two contracts - with 3P Consultancy, valued at more than R200-million, and with the Bawoki Consortium, for a R1-billion computerised information system - were cancelled after a review by the new leadership of the department in April last year.
The Johannesburg High Court ordered the department to pay R10.4-million for services rendered by 3P Consultancy and to re-instate its contract with the company.
The department appealed and the matter is still before the court, according to the department's spokesman, Mandla Sidu.
Gauteng's MEC for health and social development, Qedani Mahlangu, said last year that her decision to cancel contracts signed by her predecessor, Brian Hlongwa, was "the right thing to do".
The DA's health spokesman in Gauteng, Jack Bloom, said the claims against the department were a concern.
He said the value of the contracts was not necessarily the amount for which the department would be liable if it lost in the high court. Hlongwa and 3P have consistently denied wrongdoing.
Adele van der Walt, a lawyer who specialises in medical malpractice claims, said increases in malpractice suits against doctors, nurses and hospitals could partly be ascribed to there being "more patients and fewer doctors".
The number of claims had increased in private and public healthcare, she said.
"Hospitals are understaffed and there are fewer qualified practitioners.
Only about 20% to 30% of nurses are qualified," she said.
The risk factors increased as the number of patients seeking medical attention increased, she said.
Taken together with the quality and availability of nursing staff, and of specialist doctors, it was a "challenge for medical services in South Africa".
The Sunday Times quoted the chief planner of the proposed national health insurance scheme, Olive Shisana, as saying that South Africa would recruit "thousands of doctors from other countries" to staff the scheme.
The scheme is intended to provide tax-funded cover to all citizens.
Bloom said it was not only claims and liabilities that were wreaking havoc with the department's budget: other provinces owed about R307-million to Gauteng.