The level at which the failures of doctors will be addressed appears to be a matter of luck. Life may be a lottery but medical practice is worse. It’s a rigged game.
If you work for the public service, its very easy to fall foul of the petty tyrants of what is laughably called the “human resources” department. Doctors seem to have it particularly hard.
A recent example how wrong things can go with internal disciplinary processes is the three young Tygerberg doctors who were variously given final warnings, suspended and fired for “stealing” two broken armchairs.
They were, however, fortunate in that although their initial internal appeal had been dismissed, the case became a cause célèbre.
As is the instinctive response of any creepy-crawly when their dank refuge is exposed to light, the Western Cape health department (WCHD) reversed the career-ruining punishments it had imposed.
Compare the harsh treatment meted out to the Tygerberg doctors with another WCHD employee, Dr Srinivasan Govender.
Found guilty by the Health Professions Council (HPCSA) of disgraceful conduct, Govender was last month handed a five-year ban from practising as a doctor, entirely suspended. He was also banned from working in a state hospital for four years.
Govender had admitted to sexually assaulting a nurse after giving her the drug Ketamine to “enhance her mood”. A labour court judge found that the nurse had “no capacity to give informed consent to any act in respect of her body”.
Initially, WCHD’s disciplinary hearing had handed Govender a slap on the wrist. It was only after the finding was challenged in the Labour Court, that he was fired. But embarrassingly, three months later, Govender was discovered to be working happily in various other WCHD hospitals as a locum.
Run by the Democratic Alliance (DA), WCHD, a bit like the Cosa Nostra, likes to keep its operations murky. For months now, it has stalled my requests for access to the full record of both the Govender and Tygerberg hearings.
It has also failed to produce a promised list of the past year’s disciplinary actions under its aegis, simply detailing the charge, the finding and the sanction. This is called transparent governance, something the DA is very keen that ANCrun entities should be compelled to implement.
The sins of WCHD, however, probably pale in comparison to those of the HPCSA. The HPCSA is at present engaged on its very own, drawn-out, feud with Dr Jacques de Vos who has, for two and a half years, been unable to complete his internship because he faces an unresolved charge of unprofessional conduct.
De Vos was charged in 2017, while doing his gynaecology rotation, because he tried to convince a patient not to undergo an abortion. Why this incident ended up with a draconian disciplinary sanction is not clear.
Even less clear is why the HPCSA brought charges, dropped them, then reinstated them, creating havoc with De Vos’ training. Or why the HPCSA can’t produce a formal letter of complaint, or statement, by the aggrieved woman.
The level at which the failures of doctors will be addressed appears to be a matter of luck.
Recently, the high court upheld a five-year jail sentence for Dr Danie van der Walt, found guilty of culpable homicide following a woman’s death during a delivery. Compare this with Dr David Sello, whose gruesome butchery of patients was exposed by eNCA on TV, after which the HPCSA found him guilty of 26 charges of gross misconduct, including the deaths of three patients. It suspended his licence but Sello, unlike Van Der Walt, has never faced criminal charges.
Life may be a lottery but medical practice is worse. It’s a rigged game.
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