The Eastern Cape Health Department is taking extraordinary legal measures in a bid to cut back on its medico-legal bill, including a High Court application to stop lump sum payouts in medico-legal claims.

Provincial health spokesperson Sizwe Kupelo said the department is ‘under siege’, with medico-legal claims sucking dry the fiscus and hindering health service delivery.

Since 2015 alone, Kupelo said about R3bn had been paid out in medico-legal claims, with R4bn being absorbed by accruals from previous years.

A Daily Dispatch report says the department faced letters of demand amounting to R37bn in damages.

He confirmed at the weekend that the provincial government would resort to court to stop millions of rands worth of lump sum payouts.

He did not go into detail about who the respondents of such a blanket application would include – given the department is facing hundreds of medico-legal lawsuits.

Apart from the urgent application to stop lump sum payouts, a letter from the department – purportedly sent to the State Attorney and various private attorneys representing the department in its medico-legal claims – dictates that a particular legal script be followed in handling all existing and future medico-legal claims.

The letter, dated 9 July, starts with the premise that neither the provincial Treasury nor the department was in a position to pay out ‘globular sums in damages claims where the quantum exceeds R500 000 as a lump sum’.

It instructs that in all medico-legal claims against the department, it must be pleaded on the department’s behalf that it could not afford lump sum payouts.

It says the court must be asked to order that any damages payout be paid in ‘instalments over three to eight years’ and without any interest accruing to the judgment debt.

Full Daily Dispatch report