The Free State department of health lost more than R600-million between 2004 and 2015 in litigation cases arising from negligence and poor workmanship by health personnel at state hospitals, health MEC Benny Malakoane has said.
Addressing a media briefing at the department’s head office at Bophelo House in Bloemfontein on Thursday, Malakoane said the department had been slapped with 116 lawsuits over the past decade after some patients felt hard done-by at the service they received at government hospitals around the province.
The lawsuits came from a cross-section of patients who included both men and women aged from about 18 years old and above.
Most government hospitals in the province and the rest of the country are understaffed with most of them operating without critical staff like doctors, theatre personnel as well as nurses.
This has often resulted in the personnel working long hours, a situation which has seen some of them giving poor service to patients and at times making mistakes which resulted in loss of life.
The inexperienced health personnel are simply overwhelmed by the workload, resulting in more shoddy service and even more errors.
“We have had clinical cases that resulted in the deaths of patients which could be avoided,” said Malakoane, himself a trained medical doctor.
He added that in the past two financial years his office handled 38 claims for medical negligence brought about by disgruntled patients.
According to Malakoane, during the 2013/14 financial year, the department paid out R423 000 in settlements.
In the current 2014/15 financial year which ends on March 31, the department has already coughed up R16.4-million for the finalised cases.
Malakoane was however quick to point out that the high number of lawsuits did not mean that there is a skills shortage in the province.
He said it was rather a case of some health professionals not having relevant expertise having to perform procedures that require certain skills different from their area of speciality.
Some of the bad service has been blamed on bad attitude by some doctors which resulted in the deaths of patients such as mothers and their babies during birth.
“In this case we are talking about a doctor who is on call and when called in instead of coming to the hospital, he just tells the nurse on the phone what to do,” Malakoane said.
“We will have to recover (the money) from the doctor liable for the negligence,” he added.
Malakoane expressed concern at having to settle lawsuits for doctors who are negligent and with a bad attitude towards patients resulting in unnecessary casualties.
“We are tired of paying for litigation in cases where mistakes can be avoided,” he said.
The MEC said the money used to settle the litigations is not budgeted for.
He said the money could actually be used in other critical areas aimed at improving healthcare delivery.
Malakoane suggested that it should be made compulsory for newly recruited health professionals to get professional liability insurance certificates in order to relieve the department of a ballooning list of litigations as a result of negligence.
“We are going to have a seminar soon with all the clinicians and directors of the department to make it compulsory for new recruits to produce some sort of professional liability insurance as is applicable to other fields like engineering because we are tired of having to settle claims emanating from individual acts by health professionals,” said the MEC.
“We are hoping that one day we will have zero death of mothers and their children (during birth).
“That is the reason why we want to have a seminar that will look into the issue of medical negligence and the recruitment of doctors and nurses.”
This, according to the MEC, was also part of efforts to rehabilitate health services in the province.
The Free State provincial government has over the years sponsored hundreds of students to go and study medicine at both local and foreign universities in countries such as Cuba and China as a way to develop a wider skills base for local institutions.