Medico-legal claims judgment significant for department and claimants

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An important judgment handed down at the Constitutional Court last week is likely to have huge implications for the department of health and all those who have suffered at the hands of negligent health-care workers.

We all know about the medico-legal claims saga that has dogged the health department, particularly in the Eastern Cape, for several years now.

As a result of medical negligence, the department has forked out billions of rand in claims.

This, naturally, had an impact on its ability to deliver good service to the public.

The situation has become so dire that the Eastern Cape health department will fork out more on medico-legal claim payments — R4.4bn — in the current financial year than on the delivery of health-care services which is budgeted at 3.4bn.

With the situation becoming untenable, it is no surprise that the department is relieved by last week’s judgment.

In a nutshell, Concourt ruled that courts may look at other compensation such as the provision of physical items or medical services in the public health-care sector, instead of money.

But the option to argue for alternative medical compensation rather than the usual lump sum claimed by a victim only applies to future medical expenses which need to be proven before a court of law.

The case stems from the mother of a child with cerebral palsy as a result of injuries sustained at birth at a state health-care facility in Johannesburg.

The mother instituted a claim for damages in excess of R32m against the Gauteng health MEC.

It is well documented that some of the negligence claims are largely as a result of chronic staff shortages and public health facilities — while at times there are a few who simply take no pride in the service they are meant to provide.

Though the judgment may assist the health department in suppressing its ballooning medico-legal claims, our hope is that it will not be used to further frustrate people who have suffered, and continue to suffer, at the hands of negligent health-care workers.

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