Medico-legal litigation has exploded. As of March 2016, claims against the health department from the previous five years stood at more than R37‑billion. By October that year, the figure had jumped to R51‑billion — or a third of the whole public healthcare budget if we had to pay every cent.
The medico-legal litigation pandemic threatens not only our health system but also the very existence of our mothers and children.
When some see these figures, their first reaction is to condemn the health department and accuse it of absolute carelessness. Please be careful before drawing such conclusions. Ask yourself first: But what has changed?
It is common knowledge that, over the decades, an overwhelming number of medico-legal litigation cases were lodged against the Road Accident Fund (RAF).
The RAF has since been litigated into a state of near-bankruptcy and is finding it difficult to even pay legitimate claims. The minister of finance has tried to raise the fuel levy to fund the RAF, to no avail.
Lawyers who used to make a living out of the RAF are now focusing on the healthcare system. There is a perception, a wrong one, that only the public healthcare system is being sued. Let me inform you that lawyers are pursuing both the public and the private healthcare systems. This litigation has grown exponentially.
The relentless pursuit of cases is not necessarily about what is happening currently: most cases are based on incidents that happened 20 to 25 years ago.
It is an inherent problem of any healthcare system that undesirable outcomes such as negligence, malpractice or adverse events could occur. Nowhere in the world does a healthcare system aim for such incidents of “medical harm” to happen. But they do.