Medical malpractice: Health Department spends R1.2 billion on litigation

In the past four years the Department of Health has incurred R1.2 billion in legal costs relating to medical malpractice.

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This was revealed by the Minister of Health Dr Aaron Motsoaledi in Parliament.

R1.2 billion is a considerable amount of money that could have been spent on essential health services, not fighting lawsuits due to negligence and, in some cases, the incompetence of medical staff in the public sector.

Litigation costs of the national and provincial departments of health grew from R 190 million in 2012 to an astounding R 388 million in 2015 – a 35 % escalation per year.

The worst provincial culprits last year were KwaZulu-Natal (R 209 million), Eastern Cape (R 91 million) and Limpopo (R 30 million).

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According to a study conducted by the Free Market Foundation, the highest proportion of claims against government hospitals is for birth-related injuries such as brain damage, particularly cerebral palsy, which accounts for 43,5 percent of all malpractice claims that range between R 5 – R 20 million per incident.

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Yet Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi has not identified poor medical practices as the cause of the malpractice claims, with the result that little or no remedial action is being taken on a hospital by hospital basis.

Instead Minister Motsoaledi blames ‘excessive charges’ and ‘unprofessional conduct’ by the litigating lawyers’ fraternity, and proposed a limit on malpractice pay-outs.

Cadre deployment among hospital administrators and the chaotic procurement of medical equipment, pharmaceuticals and medical waste disposal have made malpractice endemic and, regrettably, ubiquitous.