Medical Malpractice Suits

The South African Health Care Industry has witnessed an unprecedented spike in Medical Malpractice Litigation cases in the past 4 years. According to the Minister of Health, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, the Medical Profession Society, which protects 24 000 South African doctors, has confrmed that there is an explosion of litigation cases in terms of the number of cases and the amounts claimed. Legal costs relating to medical malpractice in the past 4 years have been quoted to be about R1,2 Billion.

A number of causative factors have been cited as contributory to this state of affairs, some of which include a rise in the number of attorneys seeking to replace the income they have been precluded from since the 2008 Amendment of the Road Accident Fund, a mal-administration of patients' files, increased negligence by medical staff and heightened consumer knowledge with regards to consumer rights as dened by the Consumer Protection Act, amongst others.

Whatever the reasons may be, the recent lawsuits have exposed a need for transformation within the health sector in order to plug the leakage of crucial funds. Whilst human error can never be wholly excepted in medical practice, there is a consistent need to ensure that patients who are victims of clinical negligence are appropriately catered for. As it presently stands, this 'crisis' has seen Medical Insurers either exiting the market or increasing costs, medical practitioners either abandoning their practices, or avoiding high risk operations, or leaving the country all together to set up practise elsewhere.

Whilst the proposal by some Industry experts for the setup of a Statutory Body to deal with these claims have received mixed reactions, most stakeholders would agree there is an apparent opportunity for the standardization of medical treatments and processes to ensure a dependable and uniform methodology towards health care. It is crucial that steps are taken in order to dissuade the abuse of rights by patients, root out corruption and illegal collusions, preserve professional standards within health-care and to ensure that the sacredness of medical practice is preserved.