Eastern Cape Health outsources medico-legal claim work

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The Eastern Cape Department of Health has appointed a leading international law firm to manage and investigate R17bn in medico-legal claims against it over the next two years. The Herald reports that the firm, Norton Rose Fullbright, also represents some of the country’s major private hospital groups and their liability insurers.

Health spokesperson Sizwe Kupelo said he hoped the firm, which is to work in a consortium with well known Eastern Cape law firm Smith Tabata, would be able to stem the tide of fake claims against the department. He said the department had had to pay out R600m in damages after losing in court over the past seven years.

The report said the chief business development and marketing officer for Norton Rose Fulbright in Africa, Nico Olwagen, confirmed the appointment in a consortium with Smith Tabata, but declined to give further details.

Kupelo said apart from filtering out the fake claims against the department, the law firm would be expected to run a skills transfer programme, training State Attorney staff.

He said the department’s debts were projected to rise to R2.4bn by the end of the year, exacerbated by an extreme and rapid increase in medico-legal claims against it. “Over the past seven years, these pay-outs have accumulated to more than R600m. We have implemented a multi-pronged strategy to reduce frivolous, exaggerated and fraudulent claims against the state,” he said.

“The strategy is aimed at improving clinical care, reducing negligence, improving the quality of record-keeping and an early, transparent process of mediated settlement based on fault claims to drastically reduce or eliminate the drivers for medico-legal claims against the department.”

The report says in July, Health MEC Pumza Dyantyi decided to outsource the department’s legal representation, saying she was not happy with the way her department was represented by the State Attorney’s office. Dyantyi said the department had won only four cases out of 155 medico-legal claims brought against it since 2014. The rest were settled.

The department faces R17bn in legal claims for negligence in the province’s state hospitals.

Department of Justice spokesperson Advocate Mthunzi Mhaga said in the report it was within the mandate of the department to outsource legal representation.

The DA’s Celeste Barker said she was not sure if this was the right move. “We need to stop the tragic scourge of negligence at its source and not throw money at the problem after lives have been turned upside down,” she said.

The Herald report

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