Health Dept facing 165 negligence claims

2013-05-10 00:00

THE provincial Health Department is facing 165 claims for medical negligence that are estimated to total R1,1 billion.

And the head of the department, Dr Sibongile Zungu, has disclosed that the department is unable to fully guarantee the safety of its patients.

She said the R1,1 billion was the total amount claimed, but added that “the determination of the quantum of each claim will have to be done on facts at hand”.

“That amount might be reduced based on mitigating factors that might be filed by the department to the claimants or … on the assistance the department will give to them in any case,” Zungu said in Durban yesterday.

She was speaking to the media on the sidelines of a healthcare professions conference aimed at formulating approaches to re-affirm a professional culture and ethos.

Zungu made the comments three days after a Durban couple, Kishore and Jayanthie “Sharon” Sonny, were awarded a R6,6 million settlement to secure the future of their Down’s Syndrome baby, who was born in December 2002.

The settlement comprised R4,4 million from the Office of the Premier and R2,2 million from eThekwini Metro Municipality.

Staff at Addington Hosital and Clare Estate Clinic were found to be negligent.

Zungu said the 165 lawsuits were a serious challenge to the department.

“This is a lot of money and that makes us work hard to turn the situation around.”

She also said the department faced the lawsuits at a time it faced critical challenges.

“The department is actually in an unfortunate situation in that the numbers of patients are increasing, the numbers of personnel are diminishing, the equipment is ageing and the skills are getting depleted,” said Zungu.

“We are in a situation where we actually are not in a situation to guarantee 100% safety.”

Although she did not name the number of officials responsible for medical negligence, she said action was being taken by Health Department’s profession bodies, notably the Nurses Council and Health Professional Council.

“Each of the health professions has a body that governs their practice that then takes disciplinary action against them.

“On our side, should there be a labour issue where, for instance, there was dereliction of duty and the person was not at work, we take the Labour Relations Act and apply it as an employer.”

Zungu said steps were being taken to ensure core standards were introduced and the additional budget allocated to the National Health Insurance scheme.

There were also appropriate levels of care that were being advocated whereby patients had to take responsibility for their own health to avoid complications and ensure they took the necessary steps to avoid a complication of the disease, she said.

“The health workers on one side sharpen their skills and also ensure they pay attention to following clinical protocols … and the procedures we have.”

Health MEC Sibongiseni Dhlomo, speaking at the summit earlier, called on health professionals to show respect for their profession.

Health professionals should show love, care, support and compassion for their patients, he added.

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