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Updated 12 February 2015

Exclusive: Surgeon walks out on patient, not once but twice

A surgeon from Pholosong Hospital was fired for walking out on an elderly woman –during the operation, and after the procedure, Health24 has learnt.

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A senior surgeon who was fired from Pholosong Hospital not only abandoned his patient – an elderly woman – after cutting her open during the operation, but also after the procedure was completed.

The surgeon was dismissed for gross negligence and contravention of theatre protocol and did not refute any claims made against him, the Gauteng Health Department told Health24.

He is accused of leaving his patient on the operation table for 30 minutes, during which time he had a smoke, reported City Press.

The surgeon was begged on more than one occasion to return and complete the procedure.

Gauteng Health Department spokesperson Prince Hamnca told Health24 the operation was completed by the doctor, but his assistant had to take over afterwards.

"That indication was completed by the surgeon ... and the remainder of the surgical procedure to completion was done by his assistant surgeon ... technically 'unsupervised' as he had then left the operating theatre again at this point."  

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Patient is fine

The department said that the patient did not suffer any complications. "Initial post discharge assessments have not elicited any untoward complications," Hamnca said.

He also noted that back-up help was at hand.

"In this case, it is reported that the acting head of surgery was present in the tea-room who could easily have scrubbed up, gowned and taken over the operation if the surgeon was unable to complete the operation."

Hamnca said the department will not hesitate to act against staff who act against their own code of practice and ethics. "This action, should in itself, give the public confidence in the health system that it is acting in their interest."

The surgeon did not refute any claims made against him.

Matter escalated to HPCSA

The Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) confirmed to Health24 that it is investigating the doctor after a complaint was lodged against him.

"The investigation will reveal if there is prima facie evidence of unprofessional conduct by the doctor, in which case further action in terms of our regulations relating to the conduct of inquiries into alleged unprofessional conduct will be invoked," said HPCSA ombudsman Dr Munyadziwa Kwinda.

"If the the investigation doesn’t show any evidence of unprofessional conduct, no further action will be taken against the doctor. The doctor can either be found guilty of unprofessional conduct or not guilty."

What the repercussions are

Kwinda explained that if the doctor is found guilty, the Health Professions Act provides for the following penalties:

- A caution or a reprimand or both;
- A fine;
- Suspension for a specified period from practising his profession;
- Removal of his name from the relevant register;
- A compulsory period of professional service; or
- Payment of the costs of the proceedings or a restoration or both.
 
"Health professionals who are found guilty of violating the Health Professions Act, its Regulations and Ethical Rules will be subjected to the penalties mentioned above without consideration of the human resource shortages for health in the country."

Medical staff taking strain

He said because of working conditions in both public and private health sectors, practitioners may experience burn-out and this doesn’t only affect the surgical specialties but all categories of practitioners.

"That’s why we encourage our practitioners to ensure that they should avoid circumstances where their mental and physical status pose risks to patients’ lives."

Kwinda also sought to re-assure the public that medical practitioners act in the best interest of their patients.

"Should patients find anything to the contrary, they should approach the HPCSA and we will ensure that we correct any behaviour or conduct that puts the lives of patients at risk."

The public can contact the HPCSA on 012 338 9300 or lodge a complaint with LegalMed@hpcsa.co.za or send an inquiry to info@hpcsa.co.za.  

The HPCSA suspended 51 practitioners and recorded a total of 2 997 complaints – an increase of 310 cases compared to the previous financial year, according to its 2012/2013 annual report.

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