More than 5‚500 medical negligence claims against the state since 2014

Doctor's appointment Picture: Free Stock Image
Doctor's appointment Picture: Free Stock Image

More than 5‚500 medical negligence claims have been made against the health department since 2014‚ says Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi.

And the number grows each year.

 In response to a parliamentary question by DA MP Anchen Dreyer‚ Motsoaledi said that 1‚562 claims had been made in the 2014/15 year‚ 1‚732 in 2015/16 and 1‚934 in 2016/17. So far in the current financial year‚ 360 claims had been lodged.

In 2014/15‚ Motsoaledi said his department paid R391.32-million in medico-legal claims. The Eastern Cape had the biggest number of claims in that year‚ with 450‚ while Gauteng had the highest monetary value in claims with 396 claims‚ totalling R154-million.

The most common reasons for claims included maternity and obstetric claims‚ as well as orthopaedic and cerebral palsy claims.

In 2015/16‚ the total amount paid for medico-legal claims skyrocketed to R730.87-million. The Eastern Cape again held the record for the highest number of claims at 524 — for mostly maternity and orthopaedic cases. Gauteng’s 330 claims for faults ranging from cerebral palsy to botched operations‚ amputations and uninformed consent totalled in excess of R433-million.

In 2016/17‚ the total value of claims climbed to R1.2-billion‚ with Gauteng’s 521 claims accounting for almost half of this at R566- million.

Earlier this year‚ provincial health departments appearing before Parliament said claims were skyrocketing mostly as a result of unscrupulous personal injury lawyers taking advantage of the system in much the same way as the Road Accident Fund had been used.

 In last week’s medium-term budget policy statement‚ Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba said of medical negligence claims: “Although some of these claims are legitimate‚ others are unjustified or excessive. Estimated payouts for medical negligence claims have grown at an average rate of 45% since 2012/13 and amounted to R1.2-billion in 2016/17.

“The contingent liability arising from claims against the state at the end of the 2016/17 totalled an estimated R56-billion‚” he said.

He added that the Department of Health was considering establishing teams of clinical and legal experts to help defend provinces against unjustified or excessive claims.

Earlier this year‚ the South African Law Reform Commission released a discussion paper around medico-legal claims. The SALRC was approached in 2015 to investigate the matter.

That report indicates an “urgent” need for law reform as no specific legislation currently exists to deal with medical-specific claims.

It also states that the impact of these claims is “reaching dire proportions“.

“The more damages to be paid‚ the less money is available for service delivery‚ the poorer the quality of the service rendered by the hospital‚ the more room for negligence and error‚ the more claims. It’s a vicious circle and if not addressed‚ the entire public health system will implode‚” it states.

It also points to growing claims in the private sector stating that the Medical Protection Society‚ the largest indemnity backer for health professionals found that long term claim frequency increased by 27% between 2009 and 2015.

The number of claims exceeding R1-million had increased by nearly 550% and those exceeding R5-million had grown by 900% in the five years since 2008.

The report states that while “no attorney can manufacture a legal claim where none exists” concerns had been raised about attorneys’ behaviour which ranged “from aggressive to unethical to blatantly illegal“.