Fri Sep 22 13:49:13 CAT 2017

'Litigation will bankrupt health'

By Bongekile Macupe | 2017-05-15 14:22:49.0

Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi has warned that the healthcare system faces a crisis that could lead to its collapse from unscrupulous lawyers who are bringing litigation against the state.

Speaking on Saturday in Pretoria during a workshop for journalists on National Health Insurance, Motsoaledi said as of October last year the department was sitting with R51-billion in medico-legal litigation and that most cases were not legit.

If the department paid every cent of the R51-billion, that would wipe off about a third of the healthcare budget, he said.

He said the top three things that the state was being litigated against were negligence, malpractice and adverse events.

However, Motsoaledi said not every doctor was being sued but the specialties that were targeted were obstetrics and gynaecology, neurosurgery, neonatology and orthopaedic surgery.

"These are not chosen at random. If you look at these specialties, the chances of anything going wrong are higher than in any speciality. Gynaecologists and obstetrics, they are number one, every lawyer who wants to get rich targets them."

Motsoaledi said obstetrics and gynaecology was the "piggy bank" of lawyers and the area they targeted most was children who are born with cerebral palsy.

He said when suing for children with cerebral palsy, lawyers include future medical care, housing, special education and a contingency fee.

He said even though by law, lawyers were allowed to take 25% of a contingency fee they exaggerate what they were supposed to sue for because the more they sue for the more they get as a share and in some instances they take 80%.

"As I'm speaking now, especially in Gauteng, lawyers are raiding schools looking for children with cerebral palsy. So this amount [R51-billion], 80% of it will be [cases of] cerebral palsy," said Motsoaledi.

The situation was so dire, he said, that most gynaecologists with private practices were closing shop because if they were sued it came from their own pockets.

He said even though the department acknowledges that in some instances it was at fault, most of the cases were fraud and that there was a "syndicate" that consists of lawyers, police and state law advisers.

Motsoaledi said in some cases files were stolen at hospitals or pages that had the relevant information go missing which in turn make the state's case weak in court.

He said provinces such as the Western Cape and Mpumalanga had employed specialists who scrutinise all the litigation cases brought against them. He said, in Mpumalanga, this had led to 53 cases being dropped immediately because lawyers were unable to provide relevant information which exposed they were claiming for something that did not exist.

"This corruption needs to be nipped in the bud because it is going to bankrupt the health system in the same way that it bankrupted the Road Accident Fund. [And] what country can survive and reduce maternal mortality, child mortality . when there are no gynecologists? How do kids come into this world when the people who are supposed to bring them into this world are all gone?"

However, the Law Society of South Africa (LSSA) said lawyers could not be blamed for wanting to assist victims who had been wronged by hospitals.

". it is the duty of legal practitioners to assist victims of medical malpractice - who are often the poor and vulnerable - to be compensated fairly for their losses if they have suffered life-changing and critical damage at the hands of the healthcare system and healthcare practitioners," said LSSA chairman Mvuzo Notyesi.