Council to investigate doctors abandoning duties

Monday, June 29, 2009
By: 
Gabi Khumalo

Pretoria - The Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) has launched an investigation into the allegation that 16 doctors from Addington Hospital refused to attend to life-threatening emergencies.

According to the complaint, registered at the council, doctors working at the paediatrics department were participating in an illegal strike and refused to attend to patients.

"Despite numerous warnings from the HPCSA, certain doctors have chosen to act in contravention of the law and continue with their illegal strike action thereby possibly placing the lives of the public in danger," HPCSA Registrar and Chief Executive Officer Advocate Boyce Mkhize said on Monday.

He warned that the HPCSA was bound by its mandate to protect the public and treat every complaint received in a serious light.

The law, ethical rules as well as the oath doctors take upon entering the profession of medicine prohibits them from embarking on a strike, he said.

"We want to state categorically that the law makes no provision for such measures, even in instances where doctors feel this is their last resort, otherwise we would have to excuse a poverty stricken person who feels justified to steal as his last resort," warned Advocate Mkhize.

On Friday, the Department of Health obtained a court interdict against striking doctors, giving them an ultimatum to return to work no later than Tuesday or face the consequences of breach of contract.

Mr Mkhize advised all doctors that once a complaint has been received by the council, they would lodge a complaint against the doctor and was obliged to inform other regulatory bodies around the world about the complaints.

This could have a huge implication on doctors, some whom have allegedly said they do not mind being fired as they wished to immigrate to countries were they would be paid higher salaries.

"The HPCSA issues a certificate of status - a pre-requisite for registering in another jurisdiction and other regulatory bodies would not knowingly register doctors with issues of misconduct against them," he said.

Advocate Mkhize further warned doctors that once they were de-registered or suspended they could not enter into private practice in South Africa.

"The fact that the HPCSA has issued so many warnings against the strike which has gone unheeded, this can only serve as an aggravating factor during sentencing.

"We therefore urge all doctors concerned to be mindful of their obligations and to consider the huge investment in acquiring their skills over such a long period of time and not to throw this away."

In terms of the Health Professions Act of 1974, the HPCSA can hold an enquiry relating to the doctor's conduct for partaking in an unprotected strike as this amounts to unethical conduct, ignoring the ethical rule of placing the patient first and ignores the patient's right to access healthcare enshrined in the country's Constitution.

The HPCSA may impose one or more of the following penalties on practitioners found guilty of improper or disgraceful conduct:

* A caution or a reprimand or a reprimand and a caution;

* Suspension for a specified period from practising or performing acts specially pertaining to his or her profession;

* Removal of his or her name from the register;

* A prescribed fine;

* A compulsory period of professional service as may be determined by the professional board; or

* The payment of the costs of the proceedings or restitution or both.

Instances where striking doctors have neglected patients resulting in complications or loss of life can be reported along with the doctor's details to the HPCSA at 012 338 9301 or email legalmed@hpcsa.co.za for further investigation.

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