The Eastern Cape government is scrambling to find unspent funds to fix the hole in the province's Health budget, which is struggling under R4bn in unpaid bills after R920m in payouts in the past financial year on medical negligence claims, writes MedicalBrief.
The province’s MEC for Finance Mlungisi Mvoko, said that the Health Department could pay service providers because attorneys had attached the money in their bank accounts, reports Daily Maverick . The Eastern Cape Health Department has already used 10% of its budget for the 2021/2022 financial year and still has close to R4bn in unpaid bills.
“These litigation (costs) are a burden. They are compromising government’s ability to render services. We are hard at work to fix this. Multi-pronged teams and strategies, involving the Office of the Premier, Provincial Treasury and Health have been set up to deal with this burden. These teams and strategies seek to improve our capacity on administrative systems, legal, clinical and budget aspects.”
He said the budget aspect will aim to address liquidity challenges within the department.
Highlighting the continuous qualified audits received by the departments of health and education, the two departments with the biggest provincial budgets, he said they would continue their efforts “to support these departments [to] turn around their audits, which although qualified, the number of qualifying items are reducing”.
“There remain concerns on the failure by the departments to comply with prescripts and regulations, especially on supply chain management, resulting in irregular expenditure of R819.26-million being incurred in [the] 2019/20 financial year and increasing the total balance to R4.2-billion as at 31 March 2020.
“The Department of Health has been allocated R26.4-billion for this year. Of that amount, R1.4-billion is set aside for health infrastructure. Other funded programmes include human resource capacitation, tertiary and specialised hospital services, and medical supplies,” he said.
Mvoko said the provincial government would call for the urgent digitisation of patient records.
“There is no reason the Health Department can’t do this,” he said, adding that it would go a long way towards fighting fraudulent claims against the department or in settlements made because medical records had disappeared.
Newly-appointed Eastern Cape Health MEC Nomakhosazana Meth has said the department would forge ahead with migrating to an e-health filing system to reduce the chances of unscrupulous lawyers colluding with healthcare workers to manufacture medico-legal claims against the department, says a Daily Dispatch report not available online.
“For years the Eastern Cape Health Department has been targeted by lawyers who work with some healthcare workers in dubious medico-legal claims,” she said. “As a result, billions of rands have been paid in medico-legal claims, seriously hampering service delivery.”
DA health spokesperson Jane Cowley warned last week that Meth faced an ever-burgeoning “contingent liability” (possible future debt) in excess of R3bn, much of which consisted of medico-legal claims.
Meth blamed much of this on the manual filing system being used by hospitals.
She said it had been agreed in a meeting with communications minister Stella Ndabeni Abrahams and the executive caretaker of the State Information Technology Agency (SITA), Luvuyo Keyise, that broadband connectivity would be “sped up”. Skilled resources for the implementation of eservices to improve patient healthcare would also be provided.
With migration to a digital system, she said medico-legal claims were likely to be drastically reduced.
Full Daily Maverick report (Open access)
See also MedicalBrief archives:Eastern Cape Health: R3.8bn in unpaid bills and R37bn in legal claims
‘Fraudulent’ medico-legal claims hobble Eastern Cape Health
Eastern Cape Health outsources medico-legal claim work
Eastern Cape medical negligence problem is ‘a runaway train’
Eastern Cape Health slammed over negligence claims
Questions over Eastern Cape strategy on R29bn in negligence claims
Eastern Cape Health MEC lambasted for ‘slothful’ approach to litigation
Eastern Cape litigation unit to target R29bn in claims
EC Health racks up billions in medico-legal claims
Eastern Cape Health claims 3x Health Dept’s entire budget
Eastern Cape’s ‘deadly’ incompetence and lack of capacity
Litigation brings Eastern Cape Health to the brink of collapse
Eastern Cape Health paid out unbudgeted R260m in 2017/18 lawsuits