Law firms withdraw from defending Gauteng Health on negligence claims

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Gauteng Health is in trouble after several service providers, mostly law firms, withdrew from defending lawsuits arising from alleged medical negligence. The department, which faces R1.1bn in claims, has not paid agreed 30-days invoices in connection with the Life Esidimeni tragedy in 2016.

Three years after the Life Esidimeni tragedy and the Bank of Lisbon building fire, the Gauteng Health  has admitted that it is still “ailing”. City Press reports that this was contained in a response from the department.

The report says it has been established that the department has been bombarded with claims from lawyers, doctors and other specialists, whose invoices remained unpaid. A memorandum has been seen, signed by at least eight law firms, in which they accused the department of having failed to honour their promise to pay within the agreed 30-day period. The law firms include Nchuepetsang attorneys, Mncedisi Ndlovu & Sedumedi Attorneys, Ezra Matlala attorneys, Cheuene attorneys, Linda Msikinya attorneys and Hugo & Ngwenya attorneys.

The report says in one incident lawyers assisting the department in the Esidimeni tragedy threatened to withdraw from dealing with queries arising from the inquests into the deaths and to withhold information on the records. In a letter to Gauteng Health MEC, Bandile Masuku, the law firm said it was appointed to defend alleged medical negligence cases instituted against the department.

“In most of these matters we were required to brief counsels – some of which we were instructed by the department – and medical experts who expected us to settle their invoices when they were due.

“In the majority of the cases, we were forced to pay such disbursements to avoid being blacklisted by the Bar Council and to ensure that the medical experts provided their medico-legal reports to guarantee the progress on the matters,” the letter states.

The report says the department was ordered to pay R17m to a claimant without any opposition because the department failed to pay medical experts and counsel.

Health MEC Dr Bandile Masuku has sought to address the issues. “The department and the entire provincial government is committed to the principles of justice, accountability and good governance. Our commitment to supporting black business and professionals remains unwavering. A significant shift in this regard will be seen in the next five years. In the next 100 days, we will be meeting with a number of professional associations, including lawyer associations to engage on the plans and partnerships for growing Gauteng together,” he said.

Departmental spokesperson Philani Mhlungu is quoted in the report as saying that as part of the adopted recovery plan, the department has adopted an approach of “turning the department around, especially after the Life Esidimeni tragedy and the Bank of Lisbon Building fire incident (the Lisbon incident)”.

“As would be expected, the department was severely affected by the Lisbon incident and a number of operations were negatively affected. The department wishes to assure the public that everything is being done to restore operations to normality and this includes work in respect to the Legal Services Unit,” he said.

According to the report, Mahlangu said in respect to the Legal Services Unit, the department was in the process of enlisting the services of the Public Service Commission (PSC) to review the Unit. “In terms of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, the PSC is empowered to investigate, monitor and evaluate the organisation and administration of the public service. In the interest of fairness, the department hopes that the public and media will be patient enough to allow this work to go on without any undue pressure. The terms of reference and time frames will be announced in due course,” he said.

City Press report

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