Why the Eastern Cape health dept faces lawsuits totalling R3.1bn

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So sick! The Eastern Cape health dept faces R3.1bn in medico-legal claims.
So sick! The Eastern Cape health dept faces R3.1bn in medico-legal claims.
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  • The Eastern Cape health department has been sued by different lawyers for a collective R3.1 billion for medical negligence. 
  • Legal claims are expected to rise to R4.4 billion by the year end, the department said.
  • Blame is centred on unscrupulous lawyers, who are colluding with "unethical and shameless" healthcare workers, to make a quick buck.

The Eastern Cape health department may have to pay R3.1 billion in lawsuits if it can't defend itself against lawyers suing for medical negligence at public hospitals.

The astronomical figure was revealed by newly-appointed health MEC Nomakhosazana Meth, who added that the amount is expected to rise to R4.4 billion by the end of the year. 

Meth blamed the astronomical medico-legal claim bill on unscrupulous lawyers, who are colluding with "unethical and shameless" healthcare workers in the Eastern Cape, to milk the department of billions of rands in dubious claims.

She said, as a result, billions of rands have been paid in medico-legal claims, seriously hampering service delivery.

READ | Eastern Cape principal charged after 'forcing pupil into pit toilet to search for cell phone'

Meth added that the lawyers had identified the department's weakness - a manual filing system. 

"Because the health department has been using a manual filing system, some healthcare workers have stolen patients' files, making it difficult for the department to defend itself against bogus claims," said Meth.

But those days are numbered as the department is forging ahead with migrating to an e-health filing system, said Meth. 

"Medico-legal claims issue is one of the priorities to be included in my first 100 days programme in office as it threatens the finances of the department.

READ | SA 'vaccinating 10 000 people a day' - but experts say we may miss targets

"We have seen it from the CFO's presentation that the accruals and payables for the department, as at 31 December 2020, are standing at R3.147 billion and are expected to rise to R4.4 billion at year end. This is just extremely unacceptable," said Meth.

Meth's statement comes on the back of a meeting with Communications, Telecommunications and Postal Services Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams and executives from the State Information Technology Agency (SITA), where it was agreed that broadband connectivity will be sped up. 

According to Meth, it was also agreed that skilled resources for the implementation of e-services to improve patient healthcare will be provided.  

Support

SITA committed to send a team to the province to give support on ICT-related matters within two weeks, said Meth.

Meth added that she would soon engage with Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology Blade Nzimande in a bid to get the services of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).

The MEC said, with the discarding of a manual filing system, medico-legal claims are expected to drastically be reduced.

"Where there is negligence, we will pay, but we cannot have a situation where the thin budget goes to medico-legal claims. That is highly unacceptable because every cent paid out in fake medico-legal claims means service delivery is affected.

"I am not saying it will be eradicated within that time period, but a strategy on how to deal with this challenge must be developed. This is a systematic quagmire that will soon collapse the department and, by extension, the provincial government, if not addressed as a matter of urgency. 

"At the centre of that strategy must be a use of ICT to correctly and safely keep our records. I am of the view that the filling system is among the key contributors that are increasing the bill of this imperilment to province's healthcare delivery to the people of the Eastern Cape. As an immediate task, we must review our ICT strategy."

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