KZN Health MEC begs patients not to sue over negligence

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KwaZulu-Natal Health MEC Sibongiseni Dhlomo has pleaded with patients who are victims of medical negligence to accept special public medical attention rather than being used by “unscrupulous” lawyers to sue the department, reports The Mercury. The department is to date expected to pay about R241m for legal claims. Last year, it was reported that it was defending claims amounting to R10bn but Dhlomo and Sifiso Mtshali, the head of the Health Department, could not confirm how many cases the department was defending.

The department is to date expected to pay about R241m for legal claims. Last year, it was reported that it was defending claims amounting to R10bn but Dhlomo and Sifiso Mtshali, the head of the Health Department, could not confirm how many cases the department was defending.

The report quotes Dhlomo as saying that the department continued to be plagued by lawyers who he alleged looked for work at public medical institutions.

Dhlomo told the legislature that the department had formed its own medical litigation unit, which is made up of medical practitioners and legal experts, to deal with medical claims. “It will then review those records from both a legal and medical point of view and most importantly, present them to the executive, that is the MEC of Health, head of Health and others, and then advise to either concede; mediate or defend a matter.”

The report says it is understood that this unit would also seek to deal with medical negligence complaints internally and resolve the issue with patients without the matter being taken to court. “The department would even convert houses of those who have become disabled because of medical injuries sustained during treatment, so that they can accommodate those in wheelchairs.”

Dhlomo said medical negligence victims could also be issued with special certificates that would allow them to be prioritised at state medical institutions whenever they needed attention. Dhlomo argued that some patients continue to seek treatment from public hospitals despite having won cases and being awarded millions of rand because portions of the payout went to lawyers. “Some lawyers go as far as encouraging patients to steal their medical files in order to lodge a case against the department.”

Dhlomo said the department was seeking a meeting with the Law Society of South Africa to discuss how to deal with lawyers. He said the department’s complaints management system was also being improved, which would entail installing toll-free phones at hospitals and staffing the call centres with experienced medical staff.

ANC MPL Sifiso Sonjica said in the report that the party welcomed the establishment of the unit. “We want to welcome the unit that you established in your department to look at this medico-legal claims because they are greedy hyenas who see an opportunity to milk the state. They must be stopped.”

But, the report says, DA MPL Imran Keeka said the department should not blame lawyers suing for medical negligence. “Don’t only blame the lawyers. We need to look at the flip side of that coin.”

The Mercury report

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