Whistleblower's conduct should not have formed basis of Tower Hospital report – medical association

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The general ward at Tower Psychiatric Hospital (Supplied, Sizwe Kupelo)
The general ward at Tower Psychiatric Hospital (Supplied, Sizwe Kupelo)

The South African Medical Association (SAMA) is of the view that the Health Ombudsman has done a disservice to the health profession by placing too great of an emphasis on "the allegedly unethical conduct" of whistleblower Dr Kiran Sukeri in the office's Tower Hospital report. 

The report investigated allegations of patient mismanagement and patient rights violations at the hospital.

"SAMA is deeply troubled by the fact that the report, in SAMA's considered view, places undue emphasis on the allegedly unethical conduct of the complainant, Dr Kiran Sukeri. SAMA is of the view that the complainant reporting to the media is an ancillary issue and it should not have formed the basis of the ombud's report," SAMA stated in a statement released on Monday.

Health Ombudsman Malegapuru Makgoba presented the scathing report at a briefing on August 23 at the Medical Research Council in Pretoria where he recommended that Sukeri be suspended until "his fitness for office is determined" after the doctor made allegations to Rapport about alarmingly high death rates at the hospital. The claims later proved to be untrue.

SAMA believes that the actions of the ombudsman that "discredited and humiliated" Sukeri will discourage other health practitioners from coming forward.

Support for Sukeri

"Healthcare practitioners have an ethical duty to act as advocates for their patients, which encompasses the duty to expose injustice and human rights violations committed against patients," SAMA explained.

SAMA said it acknowledged that the report provided a comprehensive account on the state of mental healthcare in the Eastern Cape, however, the criticism of Sukeri failed to note that his complaint relating to "chronic system failures" may lead to poor patient care.

"Chronic system failures may very well lead to unacceptably poor patient care, which will result in the violation of patient's human dignity and right of access to healthcare," SAMA further explained.

SAMA has extended its support to Sukeri and commits to achieving an environment where health practitioners can advocate for their patients without fear of their advocacy being "used against them".

"It takes enormous courage to be a whistleblower and to stand up against injustices and human rights abuses. It is for this reason that the Protected Disclosures Act provides whistleblowers with wide protection, to which Dr Sukeri is also entitled," SAMA concluded.

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