More doctors behave badly, more often

2012-03-17 16:35

From having sex with patients to overcharging medical aids – the number of South African doctors behaving badly on the job is on the rise.

In the past three financial years, the number of misconduct complaints laid against medical practitioners, from doctors to dentists and even paramedics, increased from just more than 2 000 cases in 2008/9 to nearly 3 000 in 2010/11.

The complaints relate to incompetence, negligence, misdiagnosis, performing unnecessary operations and having sex with patients.

The Health Professions Council of SA believes the figures are just the tip of an iceberg.
Dr Kgosi Letlape, the council’s acting chief executive and registrar, said there were many more cases left unreported.

“With further public education about the rights and responsibilities of patients the numbers will definitely increase. However, we do not believe

that complaints will reach alarming levels,” he said.

Some of the cases finalised in the last year include those of:
» A Port Elizabeth general practitioner identified by the council as Dr PA Schwartz, who removed a patient’s panties unnecessarily while making inappropriate sexual comments about her underwear and her appearance in general. He was suspended for three months;

» Dr Charles Odidi, who was struck off the roll after being found guilty of indecently assaulting and sexually harassing a patient at his Johannesburg practice;

» Dr Christiaan Botha from Joburg, who was found guilty of incompetence, negligence and overservicing after he performed a botched breast lift on a patient which left her deformed and massively scarred; and

» Mpumalanga dentist Dr Sarel van Zyl, who was found guilty of 1 947 counts of defrauding medical scheme Sasolmed between 2004 and 2005. He submitted false claims amounting to R387 350.

The SA Medical Association said it was shocked that so many doctors were accused of misconduct.

“This paints a very bad picture of the medical profession,” said spokesperson Dr Poppy Ramathuba.

“Health practitioners are supposed to help patients get better, not let them die because of incompetence or negligence.”

While 7 642 complaints were lodged with the health professions council in the past three financial years, only 7.3%, or 561 of them, were finalised.

The body has faced criticism for failing to act against bad doctors and other medical professionals and failing their patients.

One who has lost faith in the council is Zama Ngcongo who lodged a complaint in March last year against a gynaecologist who ruined her life. She is still waiting to be called to give evidence.

That doctor, who cannot be named due to ongoing investigations, allegedly cut Ngcongo’s bowel during a Caesarean section to deliver her daughter, tried to cover it up, and the resulting infection caused an opening between her rectum and vaginal wall.

The gynaecologist failed to tell her about her mistake and Ngcongo began passing stools through her vagina. She has undergone six corrective procedures but none of them has worked.

“I don’t know what is going on with my case. The last time I spoke to somebody from the health professions council was probably five months ago,” she said this week.

Letlape acknowledged that sometimes cases took too long to be resolved, but said, “it is often those that involve lawyers.”

On average the council takes 18 months to resolve a matter.

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