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Questions over millions for medical legal team. . . but they have ‘saved’ R50m

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If the work had to be handed over to private legal experts or companies, it would cost the department about R15 million

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QUESTIONS have been raised regarding the appointment of a team by the HOD for Health, Stephen Jonkers, which is being paid R4.2 million per annum to deal with medical legal claims. The cash-strapped department faces legal claims amounting to more than R1 billion.

Medical legal cases, which were being dealt with by experts in the legal department, have been handed over to this unit, which apparently took over the offices at the Kimberley Hospital Complex, which Emergency Medical Services were instructed to vacate.

Some of the members of the task team include the acting head of corporate services, Cynthia Modise, who was seconded as the section head of the medico-legal project team.

Modise, along with Dalene Vosloo, who was previously employed by the Department of Social Development, will serve as deputy directors in medical services.

Shanon Leigh Joseph and Leonie Bezuidt were appointed as deputy directors in legal services.

During the appointment process it was noted that Bezuidt was involved in a dispute with the department regarding an unfair dismissal.

Phillip Riet has been appointed as a financial claim analyst while three administrative clerks, Mr Davids, L Tsiane and R Mapitese (Mapatsi), have also been appointed.

Their salaries over the next three years (2017 to 2020) will cost the department R4.2 million, while another R2 million will be for operational costs. Provincial Treasury will have to be approached for funding.

Jonkers is in charge of the project team along with Dr Dion Theys, as medical director, and Papi Motingoe, who will serve as the legal practitioner to the task team.

Nehawu met with the MEC for Health on Friday to raise its concern over why the posts were not advertised.

Nehawu branch secretary, Moleme Moleme, claimed that recruitment and selection processes were deliberately bypassed.

“One of the persons on this team was instantly fast tracked, where she was employed at a level five salary at the Department of Transport, Safety and Liaison and promoted at the Department of Health as a deputy director,” said Moleme.

“We need to know what criteria was used to select these persons and what qualifications or expertise they have to deal with medical legal issues. The legal unit, that has been dealing with medical legal claims for years, are now sitting without work, while there is a duplication of payment for the same service.

“It is not justified to run a separate legal unit within the department. Instead of making use of state attorneys, this team enlists the services of attorneys from Gauteng and incurs additional travel and accommodation expenses.

“Does this mean that local attorneys are not competent enough to defend the department or that it is colluding with certain law firms?”

According to Moleme “there is a veil of secrecy surrounding their function at the department”.

“There was also never a proper handover of the files or briefing of how far the established legal unit was with its investigations,” he said.

Last month, attorneys from Johannesburg were paid more than R114 000 to review the department in a labour case involving Hospersa.

In the matter the MEC for Health was ordered to appear in the Labour Court in Durban on February 9 or face charges of contempt of court.

Two team members – Bezuidt and Joseph – were authorised to urgently fly to Johannesburg in January to consult with a Johannesburg-based attorney to discuss the case.

In correspondence, the “tardiness” of the state attorneys came under fire, where the validity of a writ of execution was not challenged.

The chief director of corporate services and head of the medical legal unit of the medico-legal task team, Papi Motingoe, advised that the department was exposed to the risk of “unwarranted sale of expensive and critical medical equipment if urgent steps were not taken”.

He indicated that Dockrat Attorneys in Johannesburg had to be urgently instructed to set aside the writ as the matter was proceeding in the Labour Court in Johannesburg.

Moleme added that while the union agreed in principle that legal claims against the department had to be reduced, it disagreed with the manner in which this unit has been established.

Head of the legal unit of the Northern Cape Civics Organisation, Ross Henderson, also questioned where the funds would be sourced from to fund the team.

“These positions do not exist in the organogram and are not budgeted for.”

He recommended that the Department of Health be placed under administration.

Spokesperson for the Department of Health, Lulu Mxekezo, said the medico-legal team had already resulted in a R50 million saving.

“The team was established with the aim of addressing medical legal claims in order to reduce the financial risk. This is actually a national directive to establish similar teams in all provinces to effectively deal with such cases, as these claims are posing serious financial challenges to the entire public health sector in the country.

“The Northern Cape Department of Health is working on a more effective, economic and efficient way and will utilise external expertise when a need arises.”

She added that the team comprised of internal and external personnel with required competencies and skills in legal, clinical and financial fields.

“The competencies are based on legal, litigation, mediation, negotiations, investigations, financial analysis and clinical standards. The project team meets the required competencies and is highly skilled.”

Mxekezo stated that personnel were appointed on a contract basis for the next three years and were not employed as consultants.

“The department is looking at the feasibility of establishing a permanent unit because of the critical need and function. We are also engaging the provincial Treasury for funding to enhance the capacity of the team.”

She confirmed that the total cost to operate this project was about R4 million per year.

“The cost spent on this project is to provide monetary value based on the input and outcome of reducing the amount of contingent liabilities.

“Since the establishment of the project team two months ago, the department has already saved an estimated R50 million. The team has successfully analysed, investigated, mediated and legally scrutinised several cases which have resulted in the office of the registrar of the high court to archive dormant cases to the value of R33.4 million.”

Mxekezo indicated that if the work already done by the project team had to be handed over to private legal experts or companies, it would have cost the department about R15 million.