READER LETTER | Medical negligent payouts strain healthcare

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Image: Lubabalo Lesolle/Gallo Images

A Zimbabwean woman has been awarded by the courts an amount of R17.2m for medical negligence that occurred at a public hospital in North West when she gave birth, that resulted in the baby developing cerebral palsy.

The compensation was for future medical costs. This was on eNCA. While this is an unfortunate incident, it happens occasionally where there is an unusually high nurse/patient disparity ratio due to overcrowded hospitals and a dire shortage of nurses. Pregnant women from Zimbabwe have regarded it as normal to cross the border when closer to labour.

In one patient's file, the Limpopo MEC for health, Dr Poppy Ramathoba, found that the doctor who had attended to the patient in Zimbabwe had actually written in the patient's file that she must cross over to SA for delivery. The problem with the compensation amounts paid to mothers whose babies suffered medical negligence resulting in the babies developing cerebral palsy is that it can range from R7.5m to as high as R27m, depending on the lawyer representing the claimant. This is unacceptable.

Lawyers cannot be allowed to treat use such unfortunate incidents as the opportunity to enrich themselves over a patient's misfortune. The very fact that an abnormal situation has been allowed to continue for years shows that there is no communication between the governments of Zimbabwe and SA.

SA lacks sufficient funds to look after its own healthcare facilities but it has been overburdened with patients from neighbouring countries and has not engaged with its neighbours to highlight the heavy burden on its healthcare. It's worse when astronomical figures in rands are paid out over medical negligence.

One way to deal with the problem is for the government to set limits on the compensation amounts payable for each type of injury suffered by the patient.

This article has been updated: This letter received by Sowetan erroneously stated the medical negligence occurred in Limpopo when in fact, the medical negligence happened in North West. We regret the error.

Cometh Dube-Makholwa, Midrand

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