Gauteng Health MEC Gwen Ramokgopa says her department has established legal ways to hold health workers personally liable for medical negligence but National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu) is quoted in an Eyewitness News report as saying that it is prepared to fight this and protect its members.
There are dozens of medical negligence cases in South Africa with the Eastern Cape government being sued the most, followed by Gauteng. The report says one of these cases includes the Life Esidimeni tragedy which resulted in at least 144 deaths. So far, in that case, more than R159m of taxpayers’ money, which is meant for the improvement of services, has been used to rectify the government’s poor decision.
The report says that although the Esidimeni tragedy is the most prominent negligent case in post-apartheid South Africa, this is not the only case and questions are being asked about why individual health workers, including nurses and doctors, as well as politicians, are almost never held personally liable.
Nehawu’s Khaya Xaba says this would not be fair. “The blame should fall squarely on the employer.”
But Ramokgopa says soon individuals will be held to account. “Human Resources (HR) will also come into things and can hold nurses and doctors liable.”
The report says only 134 families affected by the government’s decision on Life Esidimeni have been paid for compensation but there were more than 1,700 transfers. When he announced his decision in March, retired Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke told the government it would have to pay compensation to any other family that may come forward to claim if investigation shows their loved one was moved during the period that was under investigation
The Democratic Alliance says, meanwhile, that implicated Life Esidimeni officials should pay part of the compensation awarded to victims. Polity reports that the DA said it has written to Gauteng Premier David Makhura to demand that he takes action to recover from implicated state officials some of the millions of rand paid out to compensate victims of the Life Esidimeni tragedy. The DA said it had sent letters of demand to Makhura and Ramokgopa to begin the process to compel implicated officials to pay for their wrong-doing.
DA Gauteng member of the provincial legislature, Jack Bloom, said the “joint wrongdoers” include former Gauteng Health MEC, Qedani Mahlangu, former Gauteng head of Gauteng Health Department, Dr Barney Selebano and former chief director fo mental health, Dr Makgabo Manamela.
The report quotes Bloom as saying that the trio should be compelled to pay a portion of the R159m arbitration awarded to relatives of those who suffered and died. More than 140 mentally ill patients died as a result of a botched attempt to move them from Life Esidimeni to NGOs – some that were not registered to cater for such vulnerable people.
“We insist that Mahlangu and senior officials pay directly for their wilful criminality that resulted in enormous suffering to vulnerable people and 144 deaths,” said Bloom. He cited the Apportionment of Damages Act 34 of 1956, where more than one person may be held liable for a wrongful act, as an appropriate instrument to deal with them.
The report says the Act provides that a party that has been found liable in a civil claim, and has paid this claim in full, can act to recover from those who were also allegedly liable to recover a contribution for their fair share of what has been paid.
Bloom said the DA believes that taxpayers should not have to pay for the “egregious misconduct of government officials” and that the perpetrators should pay from their own pockets to cover the damage they caused.
“Former Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu, for instance, earned R1.9m a year and left with a substantial pension, while Selebano and Manamela also earned well,” said Bloom.
He said the DA has given the Gauteng government 60 days to take legal action against Mahlangu, Selebano and Maluleke. “There is some urgency as action in terms of the Act needs to take place within one year,” said Bloom.