Dentist guilty of fraud still practising

2012-01-14 14:41

More than two years after a dental surgeon was convicted on 1 947 counts of fraud relating to medical aid claims, he is still practising.

The Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA), which has the power to revoke Dr Sarel Jacobus van Zyl’s licence to practise or suspend him, will only hear his case next month.

Van Zyl (55) defrauded Sasolmed, a medical scheme for employees of petrochemicals giant Sasol, between 2004 and 2005.

He submitted fraudulent claims amounting to R387 350.

He was convicted of fraud by the Pretoria Specialised Commercial Crimes Court in 2009 and sentenced to two years’ imprisonment or a fine of R200 000.

He settled for the latter.

The matter was then referred to the council for disciplinary action. But due to a backlog, Van Zyl’s hearing, scheduled for last month, was postponed to next month because he didn’t have legal representation.

Lize Nel, spokesperson for HPCSA, admitted that they were facing a backlog and that as a result some cases may take longer to come before the Professional Conduct Committee.

“On average, matters take 18 months to resolve and we are aware this can be a long wait for a patient.
“But to ensure that justice is able to effectively run its course and that all parties are given a fair chance to defend themselves and their claims, 18 months is perfectly acceptable in legal terms,” Nel said.

The council received 2 903 complaints in the previous 2010/2011 financial year alone, 172 of which have been finalised.

A similar situation happened in 2009/2010, when 2 703 complaints were lodged and only 199 were finalised.

Nel defended the council’s slow pace in resolving some of the cases, saying a number of reasons can cause a delay in legal proceedings.

“These include witnesses being unavailable to testify, the unavailability of expert witness practitioners or requests for postponement from the complainant or the defendant, for whatever reason.

“In Van Zyl’s case, he did not have legal representation and the matter had to be postponed,” she said.

In a bid to reduce the backlog, the council appointed an ombudsman a few years ago.

The ombudsman was tasked with ensuring that complaints of a less serious nature are fast-tracked through mediation and arbitration between the complainant and the healthcare practitioner concerned.

According to the council’s records, 399 cases of a less serious nature were referred to the office of the ombudsman in the past two financial years.

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