Namibia
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Health ministry coughs up N$3,2 million for medical negligence

The Ministry of Health and Social Services paid N$3,2 million in 12 medical lawsuits during the 2021/2022 fiscal year.

This was revealed by the ministry’s audit report tabled by auditor general Junias Kandjeke in the National Assembly last week.

Health ministry executive director Ben Nangombe told The Namibian in an interview that these are cases where the ministry was taken to court and was found liable.

“Once we are found liable by the court, we have to pay. We went to the treasury for the approval of the payments for those 12 claims registered against the state during the financial year under review,” Nagombe said.

Speaking on the same issue, Legal Assistance Centre (LAC) director Toni Hancox said they currently have 10 medical negligence matters filed against the government.

Hancox said since last year, 10 matters have been settled with the government.

She said the damages claimed can be substantial given that, depending on the expert reports, they may include future medical care and even future living costs as in some instances people will not be able to work any more.

“In cases where medical negligence is confirmed, the government will have to pay damages to our clients. Ultimately, it is tax payers money that is used to pay for these claims,” Hancox said.

She added that at this point the majority of cases related to pregnancy and childbirth where the mothers or the newborn babies who did not receive proper care.

Hancox said there is a need for the ministry to address this issue holistically.

“They have to capacitate medical staff to ensure that negligence does not take place. Yes, nobody is perfect, but due to the volume of these cases, the ministry has to act to mitigate the damages” Hancox said.

According to her, the ministry needs to investigate why these issues happen and whether there are clusters of cases, what they pertain to and if there is an indication that certain healthcare professionals are being cited more than once. The ministry should also consider holding the perpetrators liable.

Hancox said: “The lawsuits have a detrimental effect on the health sector since money that was supposed to be used to provide quality health services to the public is going into lawsuits.”

LAWSUITs

In February this year, The Namibian reported that the health ministry is being sued by widower Granville Kotze for N$600 000 following the death of his wife at the Mariental State Hospital in 2019.

Kotze believes the death of his wife Rosaline (52) was preventable, and that those entrusted with her care did not perform their duties properly.

In March last year, a local publication reported that the health ministry has agreed to pay about N$1 million to settle a N$2,7 million lawsuit brought by a woman whose baby died five years ago during an alleged botched delivery at Windhoek State Hospital.

Selma Uukule, with the assistance of LAC, sued the government last year after she gave birth in May 2017, during which her son died and she had sepsis that left her severely scarred.

According to the final settlement agreement, the defendants – who are designated as the Namibian government and the health ministry – would pay N$900 000 to settle the case.

In April, The Namibian reported that Fred Mwilima, a media lecturer at the University of Namibia, was suing the health ministry and Vicmic Security Services for N$18 million in connection with the murder of his wife, who was shot at work in Windhoek.
NOT ABOUT KNOWING

Health minister Kalumbi Shangula said many of the lawsuits are obstetric cases associated with childbirth and related processes.

Shangula said giving birth is a complicated process and things can go wrong during the labour process.

“A baby might die during labour. Health workers might try to make a normal birth delivery process, but then the baby might be big. The mother might have small hips and the mother gets tired. It’s not a matter of not knowing,” Shangula said.

He added that health workers might tell the mother to push, but by the time they realise that the mother is unable to do a normal birth delivery and needs theatre it might be too late.

“These cases are complicated. These things happen in unforeseen circumstances,” he said.