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Updated 10 March 2015

SA's shocking medical malpractice crisis

South Africa is experiencing an explosion in medical malpractice litigation in the public and private sector, according to Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi.

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Litigation against healthcare providers has reached crisis levels causing practitioners to shun medical specialities, including obstetrics and gynaecology, Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said on Monday.

"The nature of the crisis is that our country is experiencing a very sharp increase - actually an explosion in medical malpractice litigation - which is not in keeping with generally known trends of negligence or malpractice," Motsoaledi said in Pretoria.

"The cost of medical malpractice claims has skyrocketed and the number of claims increased substantially."

Addressing a medico-legal summit in Pretoria, Motsoaledi said when the trend was initially observed, doctors in public service were blamed for rendering shoddy service.

Read: Doctor accused of stealing body parts returns to work

"Let me make it very clear, the crisis we are faced with is not a crisis of public healthcare. It is a crisis faced by everybody in the healthcare profession - public and private. It does not matter where you are," said Motsoaledi.

Specific medical specialities were targeted.

"There are four medical specialities that are continually, persistently, and mercilessly being targeted for litigation," said Motsoaledi.

"These are obstetrics and gynaecology, neurosurgery, neonatology, and orthopaedics."

He said the trend was significantly detrimental to the healthcare system.

Motsoaledi said the cost of indemnity insurance for private specialists in neurosurgery has increased by "a whopping 573%" within a period of eight years between 2005 and 2013.

"The cost of indemnity insurance for private specialists in obstetrics increased by 382% within a similar period and still growing. All these issues have devastating consequences to the healthcare system of a country," he said.

Motsoaledi said young doctors were now reluctant to specialise in obstetrics and gynaecology.

"Those who are too old to change are resorting to procrastinating gynaecology and refuse to see the woman once she falls pregnant," he said.

Read: Surgeon walks out on patient, not once but twice

Motsoaledi said lawyers leading the litigation against medical practitioners were not doing it for the love of patients.

"They are driven by this pocket-lining phenomenon. They are simply in hospitals because the platform from which they have been lining their pockets, and not that of the wronged patients, has now changed."

"Yes, the RAF [Road Accident Fund] has changed. It has been bankrupted by this pocket-lining behaviour," said Motsoaledi.

He said numerous countries had faced similar problems.

"It is the same crisis that occurred in the United States in the early 1970s which was described as a crisis of insurance availability as many insurers exited," he said.

"The second [crisis] in the mid-1980s was a crisis of affordability with price hikes that meant doctors found they could not afford to pay for cover."

He said the problem had also been experienced in the United Kingdom and Australia.

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