Law Society of SA picks a fight with health minister: Who will win?

28 Mar 2017

PBM

The Law Society of South Africa (LSSA), through its co-chairperson Mvuzo Notyesi, has essentially told parliament and the minister of health, Aaron Motsoaledi, to take a hike after they raised concerns about attorney malpractices around medical negligence claims against the state.

In a strongly worded statement released yesterday the LSSA dismissed concerns raised in parliament last week suggesting that the minister must leave the legal fraternity alone and focus on solving gross public health inefficiencies that has amongst other tragedies resulted in the loss of 94 lives, via the Esidimeni saga.

This could spark a cold war between the health minister and the LSSA. The minister of health, Aaron Motsoaledi, is known to be a principled and tenacious political operator who amongst other victories got the better of global pharmaceuticals over intellectual property matters.

In a matter that is clearly not black and white, where attorney malpractice cant be dismissed as fabrication, Notyesi’s blast towards Motsoaledi and parliament could be ill-advised.

Notyesi’s blasting came after the joint sitting of Parliament’s Standing Committee on Appropriations and the Portfolio Committee on Health heard last week of malpractices at the hands of unscrupulous lawyers who see the state as a piggy bank. Parliament was told that medical claims against the state had increased from R28bn to R43bn partly due to the predatory instincts of some lawyers.

The parliamentary narrative was that unscrupulous lawyers are now targeting the public health sector after milking the Road Accident Fund (RAF) to bankruptcy. The list of allegations against the legal fraternity included attorney collusion, stealing patients’ files to secure cases and touting and promising clients what appears to be large amount of monies when the layers claim much more and keep the difference.

Motsoaledi has promised to crack the whip against attorney malpractices in the public health sector.

In its response the LSSA said the allegations were concerning and demanded a meeting with the parliamentary committees “to discuss what it views to be unsubstantiated and sensationalist allegations against attorneys with regard to medical negligence claims”.

LSSA Co-Chairperson, Mvuzo Notyesi, said “The country is still traumatised and shocked by the death of the 94 mentally and physically disabled patients as a result of the failing healthcare system, which included the neglect of the patients. We urge the Health Ministry to focus on addressing the dire skills shortages and poor conditions as well as the duty of care owed by healthcare professionals and medical facilities to patients, rather than on curtailing their right to fair and legitimate compensation. Attorneys cannot be blamed for simply carrying out their duties on behalf of victims who have been wronged.”

He added that “The LSSA has consistently maintained that legal practitioners cannot ‘manufacture’ malpractice injuries and claims – these are substantiated by experts and then by the courts.

“Where government or state facilities neglect to administer proper healthcare and treatment to patients, these patients rarely receive meaningful answers or feedback and are even less so informed that a procedure went wrong due to negligence. They are also not told that they have rights at their disposal to seek relief.

“Where an individual or her/his family member suffers loss as a result of medical negligence, that victim has the right to be informed and to be legally assisted, thereby ensuring that fair justice is ultimately served.”

He added that “…It is the duty of legal practitioners to assist victims of medical malpractice – who are often the poor and vulnerable – to be compensated fairly for their losses if they have suffered life-changing and critical damage at the hands of the healthcare system and healthcare practitioners. Victims have the right to legal representation and they must have parity of arms if they are going to challenge the institutions that caused their loss in the first place.”

He said attorneys are stringently regulated and practices like touting or pestering of victims is not tolerated by the legal fraternity.

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