It cost the provincial health department a staggering R59m in only two-and-a-half years to compensate victims of negligence in public health institutions.

This was disclosed in the Bhisho Legislature by health MEC Sicelo Gqobana.

Gqobana was answering questions posed by the opposition as to how much the department had spent on cases involving medical negligence by health practitioners in state hospitals around the province.

He said “over the past two-and-a-half years, the department either lost or settled 83 cases out of court”, which resulted in government paying this huge amount.

In his reply, addressed especially to the DA, the MEC said in 2009-10 the department forked out a total of R19.8m and in 2010-11 it paid out a total of R16.4m.

In 2011-12 alone, it has already cost the health department nearly R23m, in spite of the department being only halfway through its financial year. These astronomical amounts were paid by the department, while a number of cases are still pending for patients who suffered or died due to negligence by doctors and other health workers.

Another case involved a middle-aged Port Elizabeth woman, who is now wheelchair-bound following an alleged misdiagnosis and a botched lumbar puncture performed by a medical intern at the Dora Nzinga Hospital, in 2003.

These and several other cases, Gqobana said, had resulted in disciplinary action against the health practitioner involved.

Some have been referred to the Health Professions Council of South Africa for the perpetrators to be struck off the roll.

“The increase in compensation is a reflection of the very poor service levels in the department,” DA MPL Bobby Stevenson said.

Last week the department dismissed dozens of officials, including two Port Elizabeth doctors, a pharmacist, hospital complex managers and hospital middle managers after they were found guilty of cheating, fraud, sexual harassment, gross misconduct and other charges.