The South African Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (SASOG) on Tuesday said a recent high court decision to confirm the conviction and five-year jail sentence meted out to Dr Danie van der Walt “could be the “last straw for a profession already under siege”.
Van der Walt, who was found to have caused the death of a woman in labour through negligence, last week saw his appeal against going to jail turned down in the High Court in Pretoria.
In addition, the Health Professions Council of SA ordered Van der Walt to pay a R10,000 admission of guilt fine.
Commenting on the jail sentence, which the accused had described in his appeal as “shockingly inappropriate”, SASOG said: “The rejection of gynaecologist Van der Walt’s appeal could be the ‘last straw’ for a profession already under siege, experts warn”.
Van der Walt has since indicated that he will now approach the Supreme Court of Appeal.
SASOG said, “without having access to the full judgment”, it notes with “significant concern the court judgment that upheld the sentencing of a respected colleague to jail in a case of professional negligence”.
The society added that: “We lament the loss of the young mother following a complicated normal delivery and our hearts go out to the family that lost a mother, sister and daughter”.
SASOG said it supported all efforts to prevent loss of life during childbearing and their own programme to support excellence in clinical practice in Obstetrics, called BetterObs, had been implemented in most private institutions in South Africa.
“Generally, South African professionals are renowned for their excellence and our private healthcare sector is world class,” said SASOG in a statement issued by the secretariat.
“Obstetrics is a specialty at high risk for unexpected poor outcomes for both mother and child, which cannot always be prevented. The accompanying significant medicolegal risks has led to an exodus of specialists and defensive medicine is gaining momentum.
“In cases of poor outcome and suspected clinical negligence, it should be investigated, and SASOG respects the findings and verdicts of our courts.”
SASOG said the sentence passed in this case “was, however, of concern, due to the precedent it creates, the plight of skills in our country, as well as the effects on the individual doctor, his community and the medical and obstetrical profession”.
The statement added: “We further hold the opinion that the complexity and expense of repetitive hearings in different forums place an undue burden on the profession.
“As part of our submission to a recent parliamentary committee, SASOG said it voiced support of the principle of a single special tribunal assisted by a selected panel of experts which follows an inquisitorial rather than an adversarial process.”
SASOG said it also had serious ongoing concerns about escalating medical malpractice claims relating to changes in the legal landscape, contingency fee litigation and the magnitude of awards made by the courts.
“We call for urgent sector-wide law reform to address these issues,” said the statement.
The society said it was dedicated to furthering of “our discipline “.
“We are devoted to the welfare of our members and the improvement of the health and wellness of the patient population that we serve”.
SASOG said: “We will continue to support our members and seek the best possible solutions to bring justice and restitution to those harmed during medical treatment whether associated with clinical negligence or not.”
– African News Agency (ANA)