R5,9-billion lawsuit bill

2014-11-26 00:00

THE KZN Health Department is facing billions of rand in ­lawsuits.

Its management has warned that if the situation is allowed to continue, most of its money will be lost to lawsuits.

The department appeared ­before the Finance Portfolio Committee yesterday and ­revealed that since 2004 it has been sued for amounts totalling R5,9 billion.

MEC for Health Dr ­Sibongiseni Dhlomo said there were lawyers waiting to pounce on every little mistake the ­department makes in surgery; most of the claims come from botched surgeries.

Dhlomo said the greed among senior doctors and ­specialists was compounding the headache of lawsuits.

He said senior doctors ­employed by the department and meant to train and supervise junior doctors were never at their jobs and instead spent most of their time moonlighting at private hospitals.

“There are doctors who take calls during lectures and half way through the lectures they will be called away to go deliver a [baby] at a private hospital. This is not a once-off thing; it’s recurring. Those students walk away with half a lecture,” Dhlomo said.

Previously, the department has threatened to impose heavy sanctions on these doctors, ­including making them forfeit the money they are earning ­privately to the state because they would have earned it during the time they should have been working for the state.

“The drive to make more money is actually causing this,” Dhlomo continued.

Department HOD Dr ­Sibongile Zungu said they were facing a challenge with regards to lawsuits.

“We recently had a painful ­experience where we had to pay out R10 million because the child had gone blind and that was not detected.”

She said they are also being sued for allegedly failing to detect quickly that a patient had cancer. “[Yesterday] I signed papers where we are being sued for failing to detect that a patient had cancer at first presentation.

“The doctors had seen that there was something wrong and they wanted to run tests to be sure,” she said.

Zungu said when they finally confirmed six months later that the patient had cancer, they were sued for the late detection.

She warned that something needs to be done to avert these kinds of lawsuit. “All our ­finances will soon be going to this. This is going to crowd out all other processes.

“Whether these claims amounting to R5,9 billion against the department, are ­successful is another matter,” said Zungu.

THE Department of Health had a good story to tell members of the provincial legislature yesterday.

It revealed to the members of the Finance portfolio committee that it had managed to reduce it’s projected over-expenditure from R1,2 billion to zero.

The department, together with the Department of Education, has given MP’s the most headaches as they overspend every financial year.

The department revealed a number of cost-cutting measures. HOD Dr Sibongile Zungu said the plan had been unpopular and had created tensions within the department as units tried to hold on to their budgets.

Zungu said their saving was nothing short of a miracle. “We got here in 2009 and already the department had already spent R2,3 billion … This was not money projected to be overspent, it was already gone.”

Sipho ‘K.K.’ Nkosi, the chairperson of the finance portfolio committee, congratulated the department. “They showed the areas they were cutting. In one area they cut R90 million. They did this without any major disruptions to service delivery.”

MEC for Health Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo yesterday revealed for the first time the conditions of the bodies of the South African citizen who died in Nigeria that were returned last week.

He said that the families only had access to the bodies an hour or two before burial because of the state the bodies were in.

Dhlomo said some of his staff had been with the families of the victims during the burial process and some had gone to Pretoria to assist with the repatriation.

He said his staff were at hand to assist the families wanting to view the bodies of their loved ones who died when a church building collapsed in Nigeria more than two months ago.

There had been rumours that those bodies had been in a severe state of decomposition when they arrived back.

“When families insisted on seeing their bodies, the families had to come to our forensic mortuary because the bodies were not allowed to be with people.”

He said: “The bodies left and hour or two before burial and they had to drive by that hall or church.”

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