The Gauteng Health Department is in trouble after several service providers, mostly law firms, withdrew from defending lawsuits arising from alleged medical negligence. The department faces R1.1bn in claims. City Press says it has established that the department has been bombarded with claims from lawyers, doctors and other specialists, whose invoices remained unpaid.

The newspaper says it has seen a memorandum, signed by at least eight law firms, in which they accused the department of having failed to honour their promise to pay within the agreed 30-day period. The law firms include Nchupetsang attorneys, Mncedisi Ndlovu & Sedumedi Attorneys, Ezra Matlala attorneys, Chuene attorneys, Linda Msikinya attorneys and Hugo & Ngwenya attorneys.

In one incident lawyers assisting the department in the Life Esidimeni tragedy threatened to withdraw from dealing with queries arising from the inquests into the deaths and to withhold information on the records. In a letter to Gauteng’s health MEC, Bandile Masuku, the law firm said it was appointed to defend alleged medical negligence cases instituted against the department.

‘In most of these matters we were required to brief counsels – some of which we were instructed by the department – and medical experts who expected us to settle their invoices when they were due. ‘In the majority of the cases, we were forced to pay such disbursements to avoid being blacklisted by the Bar Council and to ensure that the medical experts provided their medico-legal reports to guarantee the progress on the matters,’ the letter states.

The department was ordered to pay R17m to a claimant without any opposition because the department failed to pay medical experts and counsel.

Masuku has sought to address the issues, says the City Press report.

‘The department and the entire provincial government is committed to the principles of justice, accountability and good governance. Our commitment to supporting black business and professionals remains unwavering. A significant shift in this regard will be seen in the next five years. In the next 100 days, we will be meeting with a number of professional associations, including lawyer associations to engage on the plans and partnerships for growing Gauteng together,’ he said. Departmental spokesperson Philani Mhlungu told City Press the department was in the process of enlisting the services of the Public Service Commission (PSC) to review the Legal Services Unit.

‘In terms of the Constitution … the PSC is empowered to investigate, monitor and evaluate the organisation and administration of the public service. The terms of reference and time frames will be announced in due course,’ he said.

Full City Press report