‘Medical Mafia’ in control of health

2014-03-29 00:00

A NASTY feud between doctors in private practice and public service has revealed a “medical mafia” that stops at nothing to ensure private doctors retain the lion’s share of patients.

Allegations of harassment, intimidation, and threats have surfaced from several public service doctors in both Pietermaritzburg and Durban, who did not want their names revealed for professional reasons.

The public service doctors who are too scared to proceed with legal or criminal cases against their private counter-parts, for fear of tarnishing their reputation, simply turn a blind eye now and have resolved to stay in public service.

Public service doctors, who have constantly been on the radar for falsely moonlighting, this week spoke on how they were targeted by private sector doctors who feared them entering the private sector and poaching their patients.

Several public sector doctors revealed how they were threatened over the years when they made it known they were contemplating joining the private sector. Two of the doctors had to eventually seek legal recourse against the threats received and had to shelve their plans to join the private sector. They eventually ditched their legal recourse because of the publicity attached to it.

“Private doctors are extremely threatened by public sector doctors joining their fraternity. We are seen as a threat to their income and they keep their circles small and tight. Outsiders are not allowed to enter and if you try, your life will be made a misery,” said the one specialist surgeon who works at a public hospital.

He said a year ago he decided to leave the public sector to open a private practice and that was the worst mistake of his life. “My life really became hell after that. I had called a few friends in private practice to ask them about the market and then told them I was considering going into private practice and that was where it all began,” he said.

He said soon thereafter he began getting threatening phone calls from anonymous people telling him to rethink his decision to move into the private practice.

“It didn’t stop there. At conferences and work functions, these doctors would single us out, embarrass us, confront us and use bullying tactics. The worst was when they would degrade us publicly saying things like we are only good enough to work with public patients because we did not have their expertise; that public patients did not deserve to have better doctors working on them,” said the one doctor.

Another doctor said his harassment went a little further when threats to his personal safety were made.

“I had gone as far as setting up my private offices and resigning from the government. It was a matter of days before I went out on my own private practice and then the personal threats to my family and myself started.

“My wife began receiving telephone calls saying that I should be very afraid because I was in dangerous territory that I knew nothing about,” said the specialist doctor.

But it did not stop there.

“My private rooms were defaced by someone who scratched the door with a sharp instrument. A letter was slipped under the door saying ‘Go back to where you belong, we don’t want you here’,” said the doctor.

He said he eventually weighed his options and decided to stay in public service.

“It’s a cut-throat industry despite the fact that there are enough patients for everyone,” said the doctor.

He said the situation was also exacerbated if a new doctor on the scene charged in accordance to medical aid rates.

“Some of us have a real passion to save lives and see people in better health and it is not always about the money. Therefore, if we charged in accordance to medical aid rates, we were threatened.

“If you take a lowly-paid government employee who has medical aid, he will never be able to use his medical aid at most private doctors because their rates are at least two or three times higher than medical aid.

“That is the control they have in the industry,” said another doctor.

Private doctors approached by Weekend Witness shied away from the topic, saying they had some idea of the “medical mafia”.

“It’s not a blatant thing but we have heard of such incidents, especially in small towns, where the medical expertise pool is small.

“It’s everyone wanting to have their bread buttered best,” said the Durban private doctor.

A Pietermaritzburg doctor in private practice said he had also heard of the on-going tension between the two sectors.

“Why this is so, I do not know because there are more than enough patients for everyone to treat,” she said.

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