EDITORIAL: The painful cost of medical negligence

EDITORIAL: The painful cost of medical negligence

EDITORIAL: The painful cost of medical negligence
The State Liability Amendment Bill needs updating in line with a precedent-setting high court judgment
30 JANUARY 2020 - 05:10

There is no question that harm caused by the public health system requires redress. But every rand the government spends on compensation for medical negligence is a rand that could have been spent on services, and the current trajectory is unsustainable.

The government’s provision for future medical claims stood at an eye-watering R104.5bn by the end of March 2019, almost half the consolidated health budget for the 2019-2020 financial year, which stands at R222.6bn.

While the sums eventually paid out to legitimate victims are likely to be a fraction of the amounts claimed, provinces nevertheless confront growing pressures from medical negligence payouts, which are growing faster than their budgets and crowding out spending on health services. The annual claims paid out by provincial health departments doubled between 2015-2016 and 2018-2019 to reach R1.9bn, in the face of a health budget that barely kept pace with inflation.

The state’s provision of health care is lacking in many respects, and we daily hear stories of patients who do not get the care they require. But it is clear that the exponential rise in claims facing the state is at odds with many of the overall trends in health care in SA. For example, the institutional maternal mortality rate, one of the best indicators of the strength of a health system, has improved steadily over the past few years.

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