Lawyers acting for medical negligence victims have forced the Gauteng Health Department to pay out R310 million from 1 April last year to date by attaching the Department’s bank accounts.
This was revealed by the Department at a presentation yesterday to the Gauteng Legislature’s Health Committee.
The payments that were taken were for court-ordered settlements for negligence in Gauteng public hospitals, mostly brain damage to new-born babies.
The Department admitted that the root cause for the bank attachments was ‘non-payment of the court orders within the stipulated 30 days period due to unavailability to pay.’ Furthermore, the bank attachments ‘affect the cash flow availability of the department to provide services, mainly towards payment of service providers and processing of patient fees.’
I welcome the Department’s shift to mediation to settle negligence cases as this will speed up cases and cut expensive lawyers’ fees. According to the Department, six cases have been settled by mediation so far, and eight more mediations are taking place this month.
Other strategies by the Department to deal with the R29 billion total potential liability for medical negligence include making staggered payments and offering treatment in state facilities rather than paying the cost for private treatment. This last measure will only work if courts are convinced that decent quality care can be offered by a public health system that caused medical injury in the first place.
I hope the Department is successful in getting ring-fenced funds from the provincial government for medico-legal claims, otherwise, hospital budgets will increasingly be raided to pay them, which will further increase the risk of medical negligence.