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RAF chief attacks medical experts over ‘unethical and potentially unlawful’ letter to Zondo

The approach by medical professionals to Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo over the failure of the Road Accident Fund to pay them for expert opinion reports compiled on behalf of the panel of attorneys representing the RAF, has elicited an angry response from RAF CEO Collins Letsoalo, reports MedicalBrief. Collins has accused the writers of distortion and “unethical and potentially unlawful” conduct.

A reported in MedicalBrief last week, the doctors and allied medical professionals – owed in the region of R163m in unpaid fees for expert opinions that they were contracted to provide for RAF court hearings – wrote to Zondo asking that those of their reports that had not been lodged in court be withdrawn, until the matter was settled. This would mean that RAF cases could not progress until payments were made for opinions obtained.

In their templated letter, the medical experts said that they had been contracted for their services by the panel of attorneys formerly acting on behalf the RAF. These services included expert medico-legal services, such as consultations, injury assessments, expert witness reports, as well as attending expert witness meetings, preparing joint minutes of these, and presenting expert evidence in court.

However, the RAF consistently delayed in paying, or reduced the amounts to paid through the imposition of spurious "penalties”, or simply failed to pay the experts.

Recently, the RAF informed the experts that they had not been “properly authorised” to perform these services, which have been conducted since 2015, and would therefore not be paid. The letter describes the stance taken by the RAF as feeling like “blatant theft” that the RAF and/or its panel attorneys instructed experts to render services, “but were devoid of legitimate process or intention to pay”.

RAF response

Last week, when the letter to became public, MedicalBrief was unable to get comment on the matter, with RAF phones ringing unanswered to scores of attempts. However, Letsoala told the Cape Times that the approach to Zondo by the medical experts was part of “concerted effort” to distort the real dispute and that the RAF had “serious concern” about the letters.

“The RAF is further concerned about the involvement of honourable members of the judiciary in the communication relating to a deliberately mischaracterised dispute between them and the RAF, which dispute may end up before the judiciary for adjudication.” He said that the medical experts “were never instructed” by the RAF directly.

This week, Angus Begg reporting for Daily Maverick, wrote that Letsoala has also written angrily to some of experts who approached Zondo. It quotes Mariette Minnie, the accounting representative for a number of the experts, saying that less than two hours after the “Zondo letter” was published, Letsoalo wrote to the financial manager of one of the medical experts who’d signed the letter.

“This is clearly a concerted effort to distort facts and bombard the judiciary with unnecessary emails and not state facts that you are well aware of and choose to ignore. I also take strong exception to you involving the judiciary on matters of dispute in this unethical manner…,” he wrote.

“We will be responding to these attacks and clarify this matter but … this missive of your needs [sic] to be responded to directly but I wonʼt burden the judiciary with this… this conduct …is unethical and potentially unlawful.”

The senior financial manager, who told Daily Maverick that he wished to remain anonymous, said this almost immediate response to the “Zondo letter” suggested that the RAF CEO was “unwilling to listen”.

“Heʼs found a loophole that makes him think he doesnʼt have to pay the experts, and he wonʼt hear otherwise. I pointed out the errors, and he responded with a threat of legal action.”

Minnie said that working with the RAF had become unsustainable and “a legal minefield under RAF CEO Collins Letsoalo”.

Claims of RAF incompetence

Dr Percy Miller, a neurosurgeon told Daily Maverick that he was “fully behind the campaign”, and was still battling to get money owed to him by the RAF for work done on previous contracts.

Minnie said experts like Miller were in the “ludicrous” position of being asked to prove that they were requested to perform the work they did. Although Miller said he was approached by the RAF to do work for the fund.

“Ignatius Briel and Mollica Maharaj [from the RAF] came to my office,” said Miller. “They said they had a lot of work, and asked if I could help them. I said yes, and was confirmed on a list of experts.”

Minnie said Miller was not the only one. “The sheer number of medical colleagues affected by the RAF’s seeming duplicity, many with similar tales, has resulted in this campaign, and the experts withdrawing their evidence.”

Pretoria psychologist Dr Senathi Fisha told Daily Maverick that she too was appointed by the RAF directly, and was owed “at least R5m” in her personal capacity. “SARS is now threatening to take my house to recoup monies owed, it’s wrong,” said Fisha.

Woodmead psychologist Dr Puseletso Dlukulu, who has been doing work for the Fund since 2010, told Daily Maverick that the RAF did not know what it was doing. “The left hand [at the RAF] doesnʼt know what the right is doing. Despite having a contract with the RAF, they pay our money to the former panel of attorneys. Sometimes they pay the wrong people.”

Minnie said the RAF now claims that the contracts, under which the medical experts produced work for the organisation, are between the attorneys and medical experts – however, these attorneys are from the same panel who had their contracts ended by Letsoalo in 2020. This means that experts are expected to find attorneys no longer in practice and ask them to provide proof that they instructed these same experts with files and documents that they (panel of attorneys) were instructed to return to the RAF after their dismissal.

RAF ‘bungling’ of expert panel process

Daily Maverick’s Begg writes that the RAF’s “lack of change and attention to detail was all too evident in the debacle surrounding the fundʼs bungled 2021 December tender document process to appoint candidates to the next expert panel.”

“The bungling reached alarming proportions between 15 December 2021 and 10 February 2022 when it published three different service level agreement (SLA) versions in its tender for a new panel of medical experts, in response to Minnie pointing out material errors in the first two.

“One error was the SLA being dated 2018, another was that all RAF contact staff mentioned had left RAF employment more than two years previously. In the third version of the SLA published, the RAF stated that the experts had already been awarded the contract based on a ‘request for information procurement process’.

“But ‘the processʼ hasnʼt even happened,” Minnie told Daily Maverick.

Letsoala cites ‘historical issues’

The CEO, in response to Daily Maverick, referred to “historical issues” that have plagued the RAF. “It is for this reason that the RAF has embarked on a Claims Transformation journey that will address People and System issues. The 1st being a Structural review, and the latter being the introduction of the Integrated Claims Management System,” he said.

 

Daily Maverick article – Road Accident Fund’s medical experts launch campaign to recoup millions owed to them (Open access)

 

See more from MedicalBrief archives:

 

RAF revolt: Experts withdraw medico-legal opinions over non-payment

 

Private ambulances shun road accidents over RAF impasse

 

RAF non-payments bringing practices to their knees

 

RAF payment problems hit medical experts, endangering practices

 

 

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