The battle lines have been drawn as concerned South African doctors are calling for accountability and rapid action in ensuring the safety of healthcare workers.
This was revealed in a hard-hitting statement on Tuesday morning by doctor groups demanding action from the ministries of health and justice, as well as the department of public prosecutions and the presidency.
This following the alleged targeted assassination and murder of seasoned Johannesburg anaesthetist, Dr Abdulhay Munshi, in Orange Grove nearly two weeks ago.
The Federation of SA Surgeons, the SA Medical Association, the SA Private Practitioners Forum and the SA Society of Anaesthesiologists said that, without immediate action and intervention to restore the confidence of healthcare workers in the legislature of the country, there soon might not be any left.
“There is every reason to predict the destruction of any semblance of a functional health system – public and private. Soon there will be no health workers to blame or murder – and no health workers to heal the sick,” the doctors said.
Rewind to December last year: Munshi became the co-accused in a case of culpable homicide along with veteran paediatrician Dr Peter Beale following the death of Zayyaan Sayed – a 10-year-old boy the pair had performed surgery on in October of the same year at Netcare’s Park Lane Hospital.
It was this immediate criminalisation of the matter – prior to the normal processes of inquiries and internal investigations by the hospital group as well as the Health Professions Council of SA (HPCSA) – that the doctors are today crying foul over an issue they had raised after the doctors’ arrests in December.
“The treatment of South African healthcare professionals as common criminals prior to inquiry is untenable. The collective concerns for the national healthcare asset include a reticence for young South Africans to choose medicine as a career; avoidance of complex and high-risk interventions in providing medical care (that leaves high-risk patients without access to medical care); and an exodus of healthcare professionals from the country. These are all based on fear of arrest for recognised complications,” the medical groups wrote.
On March 18, the groups wrote to the aforementioned ministries, including the Hospital Association of SA, Day Hospital Association of SA and HPCSA – copying the presidency – issuing a memorandum that called for, among other things, a review of processes taken in the case of the two doctors, a commitment to procedural process and fairness, and a review of HPCSA structures to serve patients and the profession better.
To date, only the department of public prosecutions and the HPCSA have responded and, according to the medical groups, their responses have avoided action or dedication to addressing the concerns raised.
“On September 17, Dr Abdulhay Munshi, our respected and dedicated colleague, was murdered. Learning of the murder of a much-admired and respected colleague has pushed the healthcare workforce to breaking point.
“It follows on from the assault and attack on a number of healthcare workers by the public and families of patients over the past year. The healthcare workers are insistent on action and response to the March 18 memorandum,” the doctors stated.
While the doctors will not speculate on the reasons behind Munshi’s killing, they have also called again on the authorities to “effectively and quickly” investigate his death and bring those responsible to book.
The doctor groups added: “South Africa’s healthcare workers are afraid to practise and are afraid for their lives. Yet their dedication to delivering quality healthcare remains firm. They encourage best practice and absolutely support investigations into patient harm. However, it’s increasingly difficult to deliver healthcare to the nation while healthcare workers feel besieged.”