On-line version ISSN 2078-5135
SAMJ, S. Afr. med. j. vol.102 n.1 Cape Town Jan. 2012
Malignant persecution of doctors by the HPCSA
To the Editor: A person is likely to complain to the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) about a doctor, judging by TV advertisements by lawyers and the headline in our local newspaper, the Daily Dispatch, 'How to sue your doctor'! The complaint should then be assessed (the Schabir Shaik case comes to mind) and an inquiry made as to what has transpired (this is made by the Legal Department, and 20 pages of regulations are enclosed).
A doctor replies in good faith, and presumably in most cases this involves providing an adequate and comprehensive report. There is no reply indicating whether this report has been received, but the doctor is then autocratically summonsed to appear before a 'Medical Committee' to supply more information. No attempt is made to contact the doctor by telephone or letter. This appearance before the 'Medical Committee' is at the doctor's own inconvenience and expense, as the HPCSA points out in their initial letter.
I have many documented accounts of doctors from East London having to appear before this Committee for insignificant matters. There is no explanation why this ludicrous appearance should occur when the situation could be solved with communication. I do not think this situation is unique to East London - it is probably a national phenomenon!
Is this not gross abuse of misplaced bureaucratic power?
If the doctor does not appear before this 'Medical Committee' with good documented reasons, the next step is a summons to appear before a 'Disciplinary Committee'. There is no communication, apart from lawyers' letters (there cannot be any shortage of people in the legal department at the HPCSA), as the only reply one gets is a lawyer's summons.
This process takes years, during which time the doctor is obviously unnecessarily stressed. The HPCSA has the audacity to publish in their bulletin of 2011 'Stress'. Is this not the kettle calling the pot black!
The mandate of the HPCSA is 'to protect the public and guide the doctors' - perhaps this should be reversed, i.e. 'to protect the doctor and guide the public'. This would help to stem the mass exodus of doctors. An added benefit would be not antagonising the doctors remaining in South Africa with the HPCSA's Gestapo-type approach.
Surely the South African Medical Association (SAMA) would be interested to hear of other doctors' reports about the malignant harassment (persecution) of doctors who have had similar problems when there has been 'no offence'. These minor issues should be handled by SAMA.
C B Schultz
17 St Luke's Road
East London 5201