EC victims of health negligence punished a second time

Issued by Jane Cowley, MPL
Shadow MEC for Health

The current High Court application by the Department of Health and Provincial Treasury, to drastically reduce payments to medico-legal claimants, is a blatant attack on the claimants’ rights and the rule of law. It is an onslaught on the victims of the Health Department’s negligence, punishing them a second time for the Department’s own failings.

Provincial Treasury and Health have approached the High Court in Makhanda in a bid to:

  • Cap payments to claimants at R500 000 per tranche, regardless of the cost of care that patients require;
  • Limit the payment to legal representatives to 25% of the initial tranche, regardless of the financial costs that they may have incurred in gathering expert evidence to fight such cases;
  • Extend the full settlement of awards to claimants to between five and eight years; and
  • Interdict all Sheriffs’ Offices, preventing them from attacking or removing any assets, including the contents of banking accounts, to settle outstanding payments.

This action is the desperate last gasp of a collapsing Department that is now utterly incapable of fulfilling its mandate. It is throwing the victims of its own negligence to the wolves.

It is outrageous that claimants, who have already borne the brunt of an incompetent Department and whose injuries are severe and often life-threatening, should be punished a second time by being denied their right to compensation for the medical care they require. The costs of such care could far exceed the proposed payout value per tranche to claimants.

The proposed cap on legal representatives’ fees will also seriously impact the Health Department’s victims, who do not have access to the necessary financial resources to secure proper legal representation. These representatives cannot be expected to wait for up to eight years to recoup costs incurred, such as those incurred when sourcing expert witnesses.

The reality is that poor leadership, maladministration and outright corruption have been the norm in this Department for more than a decade. Warnings of financial collapse have been minuted since early in the fifth term of Parliament.

Cadre deployment has created a bloated bureaucracy of incompetent millionaire managers and administrators, while frontline healthcare workers are deprived of the basic tools of trade to fulfil their duty to administer healthcare to all our citizens, due to budget constraints.

This situation is likely to continue as the Department is too scared of unions to introduce the necessary administrative staff cuts to reduce costs and improve efficiency.

In a capable state, the administration of the Department would comprise a handful of highly competent individuals, a digitalised record-keeping system, and the Goods and Services budgets would be sufficient for health institutions to offer effective, quality healthcare services, thus dramatically reducing the risk of litigation.

The Democratic Alliance will continue to advocate for the Eastern Cape Department of Health to be placed under administration in terms of Section 100 (1) (b) (1) of the South African Constitution, to ensure that minimum standards of healthcare are rendered to our citizens, while the rights of legitimate claimants and their legal representatives are also upheld.