Cash scandal hits healthcare

2015-03-16 06:00

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Health minister claims public hospital bosses get paid to tip off lawyers on medical malpractice

Public hospital bosses countrywide are allegedly tipping off lawyers to possible malpractice cases in their own hospitals in exchange for kickbacks.

Health Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi told City Press on Thursday he had ordered an investigation into the CEOs – who he refused to identify.

City Press understands the investigation has already begun in Gauteng.

CEOs are allegedly working in cahoots with not only private lawyers, but attorneys employed by the state. The latter, Motsoaledi claimed, were deliberately “mismanaging” cases or underpreparing their defence “so that we lose the case”.

Motsoaledi claimed some CEOs “deliberately fail to apply norms and standards”, hoping something would go wrong during patient care or treatment.

When it does, he said: “They inform lawyers to start litigation and give them all the relevant information and documents that may help them win the case.”

Motsoaledi said this was not just unethical but a crime that should be punished.

“They are defrauding the state and lining their pockets, all in the name of patients who might have been victims of negligence or malpractice. If the lawyers cared about patients, as they claim, they would not be taking huge chunks of money from the civil claims payout.”

Motsoaledi said investigators from the department of health were working around the clock to bring the implicated CEOs to book.

Dr Poppy Ramathuba, chairperson of the public sector doctors’ division of the SA Medical Association, said she was not aware of CEOs’ involvement in these medical-malpractice syndicates.

But she said “there are several cases where nurses and admin clerks are being investigated for selling patient files to lawyers specialising in malpractice”.

“Some of these healthcare workers are alleged to be on the payroll of lawyers. They receive R500 for each file they hand over to lawyers and get a lot more when the case has been successfully litigated,” Ramathuba said.

“Some of the medical errors that end up in court are man-made – just so people can enrich themselves. To those who do it, it’s all about the money. But to us, as doctors, it’s about innocent lives that are lost – all because of greed,” she said.

Motsoaledi’s explosive claim came days after he and the department hosted a medicolegal summit in Irene, Gauteng.

The summit was convened to discuss the soaring numbers of medical negligence claims against the state.

It was revealed there that doctors were opting not to specialise in neurosurgery, orthopaedics, gynaecology and obstetrics because they were afraid of being taken to court should anything go wrong.

The Medical Protection Society (MPS), which offers indemnity insurance for medical professionals, revealed it had been forced to triple its premiums to deal with the increasing number of cases against doctors.

The MPS’s Dr Graham Howarth said the annual subscriptions members paid were high and would continue to increase as the number of claims lodged in medical negligence lawsuits increased.

According to Howarth, obstetricians pay R187?000 a year for indemnity cover against lawsuits.

Howarth said the largest individual settlements paid by the Medical Protection Society were R6?million in 2003, R14?million in 2008 and R33?million in 2013, and the group was defending claims worth R10?million, R17?million and R80?million each.

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