“It is a sad and scary day for those of us who practice medicine. It’ll be a sad day when South Africans are going to criminalise the practice of medicine, and people [doctors] will be scared to take care of citizens,” said Dr Kgosi Letlape, president of the Health Professions Council of SA (HPCSA) on Thursday.
He was speaking on the heels of the murder of Johannesburg anaesthetist Dr Abdulhay Munshi, who was gunned down on Wednesday afternoon in Orange Grove.
Speculations across social media platforms have been rife that Munshi’s killing could have been an assassination. This after the body of the 57-year-old was found lying next to his car, riddled with bullets, with media reports stating that he appeared to have been shot six times.
Munshi was a co-accused in a case of culpable homicide alongside veteran paediatrician Dr Peter Beale following the death of Zayaan Sayed, a 10-year-old boy the pair had been conducting what was meant to be a routine laparoscopic procedure on in October last year at Netcare Park Lane Hospital.
Letlape said the council was “extremely perturbed” by Munshi’s gruesome death, adding that it was a threat to the profession.
His comments follow those of the SA Medical Association, which reportedly condemned Munshi’s death as deplorable, as well as those of the SA Gastroenterology Society, which said: “This murder is one of the darkest moments for the medical profession in our country.”
The SA Society of Anaesthesiologists called on all its members to observe a moment of silence over Munshi’s death.
Letlape spoke out against the criminalisation of professionals, alluding to the arrest and charging of the pair last year despite due processes not yet having been completed by the council.
“We were quite concerned when we saw the arrest of the practitioners last year despite the fact that as a regulatory body we had only started looking at the issues raised and were doing our job in terms of dealing with the complaint that had been lodged by legal representatives of the family and other members of society.
“The turn of events was quite unfortunate in December last year when the doctors were paraded as criminals,” he said.
Letlape said the council then wrote a letter of objection to the Police Commissioner and the National Director of Public Prosecutions, but to date had not received a response from either.
The council itself has been criticised by medical professionals for its suspension of the professionals prior to a full conduct inquiry being held.
However, on Thursday, Letlape said they had followed internal protocols “to a tee”.
“Following our own protocols, we had planned to have suspension hearings for the two practitioners. It’s quite unfortunate that from the beginning of events [surrounding the case] the private hospital suspended them without due process and without notifying us, and we found out about the matter in the press and later when the families complained to us,” he said.
However, in December, the council did suspend Beale pending his conduct inquiry, which is now apparently ready to proceed.
“Unfortunately, on the matter of Dr Munshi the legal representatives of the families impeded the council from doing its job, in terms of completing the suspension hearing, and wanted to prosecute the matter themselves through a private law firm, which is contrary to our rules,” Letlape added.
“What then resulted was that because of the impasse and Covid-19 coronavirus coming in at the end of February and early March, we then proceeded with the matter by preparing to send it to the preliminary committee of inquiry.
“There’s law in this country in terms of how incidents like this should be dealt with and in terms of those laws an inquest should be held. Any other action should be based on the conclusion and finding of that inquest. We’re extremely disappointed that legislators and police chose not to uphold the rules and laws, and criminalised the professionals instead.”
Both Munshi and Beale had been out on R10 000 bail and were set to return to court on November 16.
“We are aggrieved as a profession, we are aggrieved as a regulator, and as a practising surgeon in private practice I’m concerned about my future in terms of practising medicine. We always act in the best interest of a patient and there are processes which ensure that the public are protected,” Letlape said.