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Updated 17 January 2014

Gauteng hospitals face billions in legal claims

Deep-rooted problems at State hospitals across the country are costing South Africans billions of rands, not to mention their fundamental right to health treatment.

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The Gauteng Health Department faces a shocking 306 medical negligence claims, DA Gauteng Health Spokesman, Jack Bloom, has said in a statement.

But that's just the tip of the iceberg as the deep-rooted problems at state hospitals across the country are costing South Africans billions of rands, not to mention their fundamental right to health treatment.

Minor's penis amputated

According to a statement, published in Politicsweb, the cases range from amputating a minor's penis at the Steve Biko Academic Hospital to contracting HIV/Aids from a blood transfusion at the Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Hospital.

But by far the most claims (68) are for alleged brain damage sustained at birth – an average of R5 million is claimed for each incident. 

This was revealed by Gauteng Health MEC Hope Papo in a written reply to questions asked in the Gauteng Legislature by Mr Bloom. 
The claims in question were for the period 2012/2013. 

Times Live reports that medical negligence lawyer, Karen Vermaak, says that most babies suffered brain damage because women in labour were poorly monitored. If nurses did not detect a baby was in distress and react fast enough, the infant was deprived of oxygen.

It was also suggested that negligence – in both the private and public sectors – was primarily caused by nurses' poor training and attitudes.

According to Bloom, other hospitals with high claims include the following:

  • Natalspruit Hospital – 36 claims, of which 18 are for damage at birth
  • Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg – 23 claims, of which 14 are for damage at birth
  • Leratong Hospital – 18 claims, of which 9 are for damage at birth
  • Tembisa Hospital – 12 claims, of which 5 are for damage at birth
  • Sebokeng Hospital – 10 claims, of which 5 are for damage at birth
  • George Mukhari Hospital – 9 claims, none for birth damage
  • Far East Rand Hospital – 8 claims, of which 3 are for damage at birth
  • OR Tambo Hospital – 8 claims, none for birth damage

What it's costing us

There are 306 negligence claims in total, amounting to R1.286 billion, of which 155 are for damage at birth, mostly "negligence resulting in mental retardation and cerebral palsy".

There are two R20 million claims for negligence leading to a baby's blindness at the Rahima Moosa Hospital, and a R20 million claim for birth damage at the Far East Rand Hospital.

R15 million is claimed for damage to a patient's penis during a circumcision operation at the South Rand Hospital, and R10.7 million for amputating a minor's penis at the Steve Biko Academic Hospital.

R10 million is claimed for contracting HIV/Aids from a blood transfusion at the Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Hospital.

A human tragedy behind each claim

The Gauteng health department is facing negligence claims amounting to R1.28-billion for the 2012/2013 financial year. It faced R3.7billion in legal claims in November 2013, up from up from R2.7billion as at 31 March 2013, and R1.6billion in the 2011/12 financial year.

"There is a human tragedy behind each of these negligence claims. Far too many people are injured at our hospitals instead of being cured.", Mr Bloom said.

"Hospitals should be for healing, not places of danger because of negligence. Chronic management problems need to be fixed decisively, otherwise negligence claims will continue to rise."

Health Department spokesman Simon Zwane issued a statement last year saying negligence cases are taken seriously and disciplinary processes are followed where necessary.

Speaking to Times Live, Medical negligence attorney Adele van der Walt suggested that, since the change in the Road Accident Fund, lawyers have moved from personal injury cases to medical negligence practice, which could explain the increasing number of claims.

Tightening financial controls

Hope Papo gets 6/10, down one point as he struggles to fix the deep-seated rot in the Health Department. He has tightened up financial controls and vastly reduced more than R4 billion in outstanding payments to suppliers. 

Medicine distribution has improved after he took action taken against the Auckland Park Medical Depot, but one in five essential medicines is still not delivered in time to clinics and hospitals

Bloom said many patients' chances of survival were reduced by shortages of staff and drugs, by long waiting times and faulty machinery. 

Sources: Times Live, Politicsweb, Fin24.com, Gauteng Health Department
Image: abandoned hospital by Shutterstock
 
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