Negligence costs Health Dept millions

Negligence or malpractice at public hospitals has cost the Health Department millions of rands in damages awards over the past few years, Minister of Health Manto Tshabalala-Msimang has said.

However, such cases are rare exceptions to the usually excellent care provided at state hospitals, she said in a written reply to a parliamentary question by Gareth Morgan of the Democratic Alliance.

Among the successful claimants in the Eastern Cape during the 2006/07 financial year was a patient who received R261 150 following a “hip-resurfacing operation” at the Port Elizabeth Provincial Hospital, which resulted in a “left-sided drop foot”.

An incident at the St Elizabeth Hospital cost R10 000 for the claimant’s “emotional shock due to the removal of certain body parts from the deceased’s body”.

Cases pending in the Free State included a R1,2-million claim from a patient who “overdosed” and was admitted to the National/Pelenomi Hospital.

“He now alleges that the doctors and nurses were negligent as activated carbon landed in his lungs when the nasogastric tubes were placed into his stomach, resulting in him now suffering from ‘adult respiratory distress syndrome, post-traumatic stress syndrome, lung damage, respiratory problems, convulsions’ etc’.”

Claims settled during the 2006/07 financial year in KwaZulu-Natal included R1-million to a patient at the Inkosi Albert Luthuli Central Hospital.

He attended the hospital for a brain-tumour biopsy, and failure on the part of nursing staff to monitor a drip led to him developing gangrene in his thumb and index finger.

In Limpopo, a maternity patient at Polokwane Hospital successfully claimed R78 121,23 after her baby was swapped with another patient’s baby following a caesarean section.

A patient at Tshilidzini Hospital went in for an abdominal operation, but suffered a bladder injury and a swab was left in her abdomen for a period of four months.

After a second operation to remove the swab, she was awarded R160 387.

Another patient at Mankweng Hospital was awarded R125 000 after doctors erroneously inserted a Steinmann pin into the patient’s right tibia instead of the left tibia.

Successful claims in Mpumalanga included a patient at Rob Ferreira Hospital, who got R5 899 156 for loss of sight after childbirth, due to negligence of certain medical staff.

At Philadelphia Hospital, a patient was awarded R51 000 for “wrongful procedure”.

She requested an examination of scar tissue, but “an abdominal hysterectomy was performed without [the] patient’s awareness”.

‘Rare exceptions’

In North West province, a patient at Bophelong Hospital settled for R465 000 after failure to refer him to a urologist resulted in him suffering from “impotence and his penis [being] amputated”.

A patient at Moreteletsi Hospital received R210 000 after he fell on a slippery floor and broke his neck and arm.

A delay in attending to a patient in labour at Bodibe Clinic led to her child being born with cerebral palsy and she received a R5,2-million settlement.

Penicillin prescribed at Kanana Clinic to a patient who was allergic to it resulted in a successful claim of R740 000.

A total of R240 000 was paid out after babies were swapped between two patients just after birth at Brits Hospital.

In the Western Cape, a delayed caesarean section at Karl Bremer Hospital resulted in a ruptured uterus and stillbirth, and a R120 000 settlement.

A patient at Eben Dönges Hospital fractured a femur during a fall from a wheelchair and was awarded R60 000, while surgery to the incorrect eye of a patient at Oudtshoorn Hospital was settled for R182 000.

Tshabalala-Msimang said: “Though the list represents the negligence cases awarded against our public hospitals, they represent the rare exception to the usually excellent medical care.

“In addition, these facts and figures cannot express the circumstances of the individual cases, as most instances cannot be ascribed to a single act or omission, but are the end result of a series of events, none of which are intentional.”

In the rapid and high stress field of medical care things unfortunately could and did go wrong and such cases, as well as a constant check on clinical governance, helped sharpen or improve on protocols and procedures aimed at preventing similar occurrences in future.

“At the same time it proves that our democracy is alive and healthy in that the public is adequately protected through our courts and no one is above the law,” she said.—Sapa

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