Medical negligence claims in Gauteng increased to R29bn in the 2018/19 financial year, the DA's spokesperson on health Jack Bloom has revealed."Gauteng medical negligence claims have increased from R21.7bn in 2017/18 to R28.91bn in 2018/19 according to the latest edition of the SA Health Review, which cites previously unpublished [National] Treasury figures," Bloom said.This indicates the 33% increase is more than half of the Gauteng Department of Health's budget last year which totalled R50.8bn."It stands in sharp contrast to the Western Cape, where medico-legal claims are only R110m," Bloom added.READ | HPCSA suspends paediatric surgeon arrested for culpable homicideAccording to him, the department paid out R424m for 54 medico-legal cases between April and September last year."This has crippled cash flows as law firms have resorted to attaching the department's bank accounts to ensure payment."There is a terrible human cost in these negligence cases for which no amount of money can be a real compensation," Bloom said.Firm steps neededHe is of the view that the rising claims in Gauteng shows that hospital conditions in the province are not improving and are subsequently "ill-prepared for the government's proposed National Health Insurance (NHI)"."Firm steps are needed to improve the quality of care in Gauteng's hospitals to ensure they are places of healing rather than further injury inflicted on patients," Bloom said.On Thursday, health department spokesperson Kwara Kekana told News24 it was working daily to reduce the cost of medico-legal cases."On 18 December 2019, the department won another case which has created common law and has marked great success for it."The department requested the courts to develop common law that permits them to make an order of damages that does not sound wholly in money and to include an order of compensation in kind," Kekana explained.READ | Gauteng health dept settles with family of Martha Marais who was tied to Mamelodi Hospital benchShe, however, stated as of July 2019 medico-legal cases were at an estimated R22 606 184 422.01, which is contradictory to the R29bn figure cited by Bloom.Kekana added as of late last year, the department had been affecting a mediation policy between October and December, which had seen six cases successfully settled."Mediation allows for the speedy resolution of cases, it is less acrimonious and allows families to get closure."The department has so far saved millions through this process in a space of three months. The greatest savings was in litigation costs which would have accumulated through the years even before cases have gone to court," she said.ALSO READ | Life Esidimeni: Gauteng govt, eligible families reach payment agreementRecently, the department reached an undisclosed settlement with a patient, Martha Marais, who was tied to a bench in the waiting area of Mamelodi Hospital last year.Through mediation, the settlement was reached with the help of the SA Human Rights Commission and facilitated by retired judge Neels Claasen of the SA Medico Legal Association, News24 reported.This is one of many cases in which the Gauteng provincial government was ordered to pay claimants, notably the Life Esidimeni tragedy when former deputy chief justice Dikgang Moseneke ordered that R1.2m be paid to the families of mentally ill relatives who died when they were illegally moved from the hospital to ill-equipped facilities in 2016.More than 300 families were affected by the tragedy, News24 reported.