Gauteng Health has reneged on payment agreements in at least four medical liability cases, reports News 24. Warrants of execution have now been served on its 14 FNB accounts to recover R33.7m, plus an additional 10.5% penalty fee for late payment.
Nine-year-old Fikane Mthuli lies like a baby on his mother Cynthia’s lap. News24 reports, the third of four children, he is unable to speak, sit or do anything that other children his age can do because of complications at birth that were entirely preventable.
The report says two weeks ago, computers at the offices of the Gauteng Department of Health were removed by the Sheriff of the Court after the department failed to comply with the payment agreement it had reached with Mthuli’s attorney, Olof Joubert. The agreement was reached as a settlement payment related to the brain damage Fikane suffered at the hands of negligent hospital staff.
The department has also been implicated for not paying out in three other cases. According to the report, Joubert said recently: “The department approached me to sign a payment agreement, in terms of which the settlement amount for my client’s damages could be paid in two instalments. They made one payment for one of my other clients, and then nothing. Until now, they have also not responded to my communication. Although the damage can never be repaired, these children and their parents deserve at least a chance for a better life.”
Democratic Alliance Gauteng health spokesperson Jack Bloom is quoted in the report as saying that, because the department did not meet its payment obligations even after the computers were attached, the sheriff has served a warrant of execution on its 14 FNB accounts to recover R33.7m, plus an additional 10.5% penalty fee for late payment. The amount includes damages awarded to Joubert’s four clients whose children suffered brain damage at birth.
The report says when Fikane was born, he did not make a sound. He spent three weeks in the hospital’s high-care unit. When he was six months old, his parents became concerned about his development. Tests showed he had brain damage.
Jessie Makhoba’s son Sipho (11) also sustained brain damage at birth. Makhoba was supposed to deliver her baby by Caesarean section, but staff at Pholosong Hospital refused and, instead, Sipho was removed with forceps. He sustained serious head injuries and suffered from a shortage of oxygen. Unlike Fikane, Sipho can walk, but he cannot talk.
The court ruled that Makhoba and Mthuli be awarded R18m each and that the amount be placed in trust for their children.
Joubert said: “The worst is that the parents and their baby are sent home after birth as if nothing is wrong, until they learn the truth months later. Most of the children have cerebral palsy and cannot talk, walk, sit or crawl. They need 24-hour care as well as special equipment and therapy. We are speaking about the poorest of the poor and, naturally, these mothers have to give up work to care for their children.” Lambasting the state for denying any liability, he said: “Every time, the court decides that they (the state) are indeed liable and have to pay.”
Once this happens, a settlement agreement is reached and a trust is established for the children.
The department did not respond to requests for comment on the payments, the report says. Spokesperson Prince Hamnca said the situation at Pholosong Hospital, where Fikane and Sipho were born, had improved since an obstetrician was appointed to head up the maternity section.
Meanwhile, the Gauteng Department of Health’s recently tabled 2016/17 annual report shows the cash-strapped department is owed R127.6m by other government departments. The Citizen reports that this shows that a large part of this debt has been outstanding for many years and that R1.9bn in patient debt has been written off.
The report says North West’s Department of Health is the biggest debtor, with R38.4m in patient fees outstanding. The Mpumalanga Department of Health owes R19.1m.
The historical legacy of former homelands continues to this day, the report says, with at least five provinces ferrying patients daily to Gauteng to access specialist health services, particularly tertiary health services at Steve Biko and Charlotte Maxeke Hospitals.
The Limpopo Department of Health, which recently upgraded Polokwane Hospital to a tertiary health facility, owes Gauteng R12.9m. The Department of Correctional Services owes R17.4m, while South African Police Services (SAPS) has a patient debt of R4.6m. The National Department of Health owes R25.9m for the Cuba medical training programme and R4.4m in other grants.
Bloom is quoted in the report as saying it was distressing that the department was owed large amounts of money by other government departments when it was struggling to pay its bills and had even had its assets attached. “More effort should be put into collecting ordinary patient fees, rather than writing off R1.9bn. Gauteng Premier David Makhura should also be much more assertive in getting money from other government entities to assist our struggling health department,” Bloom added.
The department is itself not beyond reproach in discharging its mandate. The report also reveals conditional grants of about R672,926,000 were withheld by the national department. Reasons given for this included the late approval of planning documents, delays in procurement, lack of delegations and late payment of invoices.
Meanwhile, the report says, telephones lines are still off at both the provincial head office and Bheki Mlangeni District Hospital in Soweto. It has already been two weeks since Hamnca said the department would approach Telkom with a payment plan. The report says it is waiting for a response from Hamnca and Telkom on the issue.