The high cost of medico-legal claims

Holycross Hospital patients in maternity wards aren't offered clean maternity dresses, and bed linen isn't changed (File Photo).
Written by Zizo Zikali

The Department of Health is facing claims amounting to over R20 billion. But with fraudulent claims, it is patients who are paying the ultimate price when much-needed funds are diverted to these bogus allegations.

Ayanda Kwekwede (23) gave birth at the Holy Cross Hospital in the Eastern Cape in September to a beautiful baby, however, she has been left in severe pain. She also says that patients in maternity wards aren’t offered clean maternity dresses, and bed linen isn’t changed. 

A traumatic experience

Kwekwede says she was attended to by a nurse because the doctor was busy in another ward. The nurse failed to determine that Kwekwede needed a caesarean section. 

“I went to give birth at the hospital. There were no regular check-ups done to [see] how far the baby is.  I told the nurse that the baby is coming, however, the nurse couldn’t increase the perineum quickly for the baby to pass through. As a result, I [tore] and the stitches from my previous birth busted.”

She says she has had severe pain since then and decided to go back to the hospital but didn’t get any help. “That is when we decided to go to a gynaecologist in Margate, KwaZulu-Natal.”

Kwekwede says the gynaecologist told her that her internal soft tissue was damaged and he couldn’t perform an operation until the stitches were healed. 

The matter only received attention after it was referred to a local constituency office that engaged Holy Cross hospital management and the board. Kwekwede met a specialist at the Nelson Mandela Academic Hospital and was told another operation would be conducted in January after the stitches are healed.

Njabulo Kwekwede, the baby’s father, says they are considering taking legal action because it was negligence and incompetence by the hospital.

Why is this happening? 

Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa (Denosa) Eastern Cape provincial secretary Khaya Sodidi says there are a number of issues that lead to staff negligence, causing a rise in the number in medico-legal claims in the province.

“Lack of competency is one of the challenges that might lead to negligence as health care workers are not offered refresher courses. The world that we live in evolves even technological equipment used in health care facilities evolves meaning that health care workers need to be up-skilled every now and then however the Department of Health fails to do that.”

He says a shortage of staff remains a major cause of medical negligence throughout the country. “A nurse may be required to attend to 500 patients while she is supposed to attend to half the number, leading to tiredness and being unable to perform assigned duties well.”

Sodidi says there is also an increase in the burden of diseases so there are more people in need of medical attention. He says they have engaged with the department in an attempt to bring a solution to the problems at hand.

Curbing the scourge 

Eastern Cape Department of Health spokesperson Sizwe Kupelo says Kwekwede and her family have met with a specialist.

Kupelo adds that the escalating numbers of medico-legal claims is being investigated by the Special Investigating Unit and some lawyers have been arrested for fraud.

“We have hired a consortium of lawyers to assist the department in dealing with medico-legal claims.  They have saved the department R200 million so far in duplicate cases and it is an ongoing fight. There are unscrupulous lawyers that are working with departmental officials that steal files to cook cases.   There are R20 billion medico-legal claims on the table currently,” says Kupelo. – Health-e News 

About the author

Zizo Zikali

Zizo Zikali is our Eastern Cape based citizen journalist who also heads news at Inkonjane Community Radio in Flagstaff. Under her leadership, the news team is receiving recognition from local government and is the defending champion for Alfred Nzo District Municipality Annual Award for Best Innovative Current Affairs Programme. Zizo has over six years experience in community media and worked for organisations such as Voice of Tembisa FM from 2011-2014 and Inkonjane community Radio since 2014. Her educational qualifications include an Advanced Radio Certificate from University of the Witwatersrand obtained in 2016 and a Human Resources Management qualification from the Durban University of Technology obtained in 2008.