Updated 10 March 2015

SA to get medical ombudsman

According to Health Minister, Aaron Motsoaledi, the role of the ombudsman would be to address the 'challenges' in both private and public healthcare.

Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi has announced that the Department of Health in South Africa will be advertising a position for their first ombudsman.

Medical negligence claims

Speaking yesterday at the Medico Legal Summit in Centurion on the topic of medical negligence, Motsoaledi indicated that the role of the ombudsman would be to address the “challenges” in both private and public healthcare.

According to the City Press, Motsoaledi has warned that doctors are so fearful of medical negligence claims that they are extremely reluctant to perform surgeries – a situation that has now reached crisis point and is having a detrimental effect on mothers and children in particular.

Read: Man permitted to sue health MEC

Professor Ames Dhai from the Steve Biko Centre for Bioethics believes that the situation has been worsened by poor working conditions for medical professionals. She indicates that high levels of stress are aggravated by poor hospital security, inadequate resources and low salaries among other issues.

The country has also seen a dramatic increase in medical negligence claims that are threatening to bankrupt institutions such as the Road Accident Fund, an article by the SABC states. Medical litigation claims have increased by 573% in the last 13 years. In 2013, these claims amounted to a total of R33 million.

Motsoaledi believes many of these claims are fraudulent attempts by State Attorney syndicates to line their own pockets.

The City Press reports: “People are working in syndicates to achieve their aim which is one – to line their pockets in the name of patients who may have been victims in one way or another.”

Induviduals deliberately mishandle claims

According to an article by News24, Motsoaledi believes that these syndicates include lawyers, state employees and a number of individuals within the health profession who deliberately mishandle claims, causing the government to lose cases and having to fork out significant amounts of money for compensation.

Four of the most targeted specialities include neurosurgery, orthopaedics, neonatology and obstetrics and gynaecology.

The health ombudsman will be tasked with enforcing health and safety within the department.

An ombudsman is a somewhat independent authority, usually appointed by government or parliament to represent the public’s interests. According to the International Ombudsman Association typical duties of an ombudsman include the following:

  • Listen, understand and mediate issues whilst remaining objective with respect to the facts
  • Assist individuals in understanding issues and their available options
  • Guide and coach individuals in their dealings with other parties
  • Assists in taking issues to formal resolution channels
  • Identify new opportunities for change within the organisation

In terms of voicing complaints, there is a procedure that should be followed. Initially, the health professional involved should be contacted directly to ensure that they are aware of the problem. In the instance that he or she fails to adequately resolve the issue, the ombudsman office should be contacted. If the issue is still not resolved to the patient’s satisfaction, the patient can either contact an attorney to handle the matter or request action from the Medical and Dental Boards of the Health Professions Council of South Africa.

Read: HPCSA strikes thousands off register

Motsoaledi warns of the changes that the ombudsman office will bring: “It is no longer going to be business as usual. When the Ombudsman office is established, we are going to make sure that there are consequences. Because this office will have a routine of reporting, they are not just going to investigate and come to find you and keep quiet. The findings must become public. They must know who's doing what in practice and who's not doing what. There must be massive improvement in clinical governance.”

The two day summit held on 9 and 10 March was urgently convened by Motsoaledi to spur the health industry into action. The summit will include a number of speakers, including representatives from the World Health Organisation, Medical Protection Society, Road Accident Fund and the British Litigation Authority.

It hopes to address issues including patient safety, claims management, patient justice and the impact of litigations on access to South African health care.

Read more:

SA's shocking medical malpractice crisis

The unseen costs of medical malpractice

Report medical malpractice


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