Gauteng Health has had to offer some of its assets to the sheriff for attachment in a bid to settle mounting legal claims for negligence at provincial and regional hospitals, reports Business Day.
Last year alone, the health department’s legal fees amounted to R569m and medico-legal claims have been piling up since 2009. As a result, legal fees have taken up the bulk of the department’s budget even into the new financial year.
The department’s budget increased from R37.6bn in 2016 to R40.2bn in 2017.
Spokesperson Khutso Rabothata is quoted in the report as saying that the department’s legal team had been working on crafting a plan to find a satisfactory way forward, possibly involving the sheriff. “The sheriff might attach items because there are some cases that still need to be paid off,” Rabothata said.
The department has admitted to over-committing on the budget allocation because of payments made for settlement of medico-legal claims from monies meant for service delivery and payment of suppliers. The department owed more than R1.2bn in late payments to 808 service providers at the end of January due to insufficient budget allocations and an increase of patients from other provinces.
The DA’s Jack Bloom said the latest court order under which the department had to pay was for a R25m negligence claim. The interest was more than R400,000 because of late payment and every day’s delay added to this.
Although the amount was not budgeted for and had repercussions for the overall budget of the department, the families of the patients were awaiting payment for justice, and the department could not ignore a court order, he said.
The report says the department did not plan for court order payments even though it had a good idea which cases were waiting to come before the court. “The department wins no cases. It’s a common sight to have a removal truck arriving and people moving furniture, and it’s shameful, quite frankly.”Business Day report