A nationwide campaign urging people to report improper conduct by medical practitioners has been announced. Unveiling the drive in Pretoria, Health Professions Council of SA acting registrar Kgosi Letlape said patients often did not know the full extent of their rights.
"Patients have the right to refuse treatment. After being consulted on the medication a patient can refuse to take the treatment but that does not mean they should be thrown out of the hospital," he said.
The National Patients Rights Charter states that a person may refuse treatment, verbally or in writing, provided that their refusal does not endanger the health of others.
Patients responsible for own health
Among other rights, the Charter also states that everyone has the right to be given full, accurate information about the nature of their illness, diagnostic procedures, the proposed treatment and the risks associated with it, and the costs involved.
Letlape said the council was worried by a rise in complaints about the settlement of patient accounts and "improper relations" between patients and medical staff.
"Improper relations range from practitioners touching patients in a sexual manner [to] sexual innuendos and other related violations of patients," Letlape said, and added that patients needed to understand that they were responsible for their own health while health practitioners were responsible for the care given.
Unethical practises may be revealed
He said claims of clinical negligence often reached the council. Other complaints related to incompetence, over-charging, and charging for services not rendered.
"This campaign... may reveal some unethical practises and lead to an increase to the statistics we currently have."
Letlape said the council was advocating the introduction of re-certification of all practitioners in the country, in line with international best practise.
The council is mandated to protect the public and to guide healthcare practitioners to ensure high standards of professionalism. It also regulates health professions with regards to registration, education, training and practise.
Public can complain free of charge
The lodging of written complaints with the council is free of charge. The public can complain about breaches of standards which include unethical advertising, criminal convictions of medical practitioners, insufficient patient care, racial discrimination and breaches in confidentiality.
The campaign was launched shortly before Human Rights Day on March 21 and commemorates the 35th anniversary of Steve Biko's death in incarceration and the improper conduct of two attending physicians, said Letlape.
HPCSA president Sam Mokgokong said Nyunyi Wambuyi Katumba's licence for practising in the country had been withdrawn by the Council.
Most complaints to come from private sector
Katumba, a Congolese general practitioner, had worked as a neurosurgeon at different hospitals in South Africa after presenting bogus credentials which he had obtained through collusion with the Council's insiders.
Mokgokong said though the awareness campaign was expected to spark an increase in the volumes of complaints against healthcare practitioners in general, most complaints were expected to come from people who use private sector facilities.
"Most public institutions have their own internal processes of dealing with complaints. The complaints are often addressed at the hospitals and the clients often do not take the matters [up] with us," he said.
(Sapa, March 2012)
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