Doctor appeals suspension

2012-06-06 00:00

A DURBAN anaesthetist barred from practising for three months following the death of a patient has applied to the courts to have his suspension lifted.

Dr Leon Rheeder, who works at Life Crompton Hospital in Pinetown, is also challenging the constitutionality of a section in the Health Professions Act, which he claims prevents him using the court to appeal his sanction.

Rheeder was found guilty on May 14 at a disciplinary hearing convened by the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) when he admitted to negligence by failing to monitor a patient for the duration of a procedure.

That patient was 70-year-old Ian Fordyce, who died seven weeks after slipping into a coma on February 1, 2010, while undergoing cataract surgery at Crompton. The incident happened after Rheeder left theatre to go to the toilet.

The disciplinary committee accepted his guilty plea and suspended him for a year, with nine months of the term itself suspended. He was also fined R50 000.

The sanction was immediate, which means Rheeder has been nowhere near an operating theatre since then. He is appealing the sentence through the structures of the HPCSA.

Yesterday Rheeder employed two counsels to argue his matter on an urgent basis in the high court in Durban, asking Judge Piet Koen to lift his suspension in the interim and allow him back to work, pending the outcome of his appeal.

Rheeder’s argument is that his appeal could realistically take three months, by which time he would have completed his sentence, making the outcome academic.

He also wants a second order declaring section 42(1A) of the Health Professions Act constitutionally invalid because, he says, it prohibits him from using the courts as a remedy.

In his founding affidavit, Rheeder said his absence from practice was proving harmful to his patients.

He denied his misconduct was “so egregious” as to warrant an immediate suspension and said the committee arrived at its decision by placing “inappropriate weight on the fact that the patient died”.

Advocate Stephen Mullins, arguing for Rheeder, said there was no evidence to support the suspension on grounds that he was dangerous.

“There is nothing in the papers to suggest he could be a danger to the general public.”

Both the Medical and Dental Professions Board and the HPCSA are opposing the application, saying Rheeder has no case for an urgent and interim application.

Pretoria advocate Charles Wesley, representing both parties, said Rheeder was unaware of the gravity of his misconduct.“I don’t want to use the word ‘deplorable’, but it is deplorable.”

Koen adjourned the matter for judgment tomorrow.

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