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Johannesburg - Four people have hauled the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) to court in a bid to get it to take stringent action against a surgeon with a string of botched operations behind him.
This unprecedented move could send shockwaves through the medical profession.
In papers filed at the Pretoria High Court that The Star has seen, the three women and a man - who are former patients of Benoni plastic surgeon Dr Luke Gordon - say they have gone to court because the council has failed to take serious action against the doctor, which has allowed him to continue operating despite his history.
Numerous medical malpractice complaints lodged against him with the HPCSA have resulted in a slap on the wrist - he has been issued with fines and received suspended sentences.
The four say in the court documents that if action had been taken nearly two years ago, this could have saved at least one of them from harm.
“The HPCSA is entrusted with the statutory duty to protect the public by conducting investigations into complaints lodged against practitioners under their jurisdiction, and they are empowered to act against them,” the court documents say.
“As long as the HPCSA fails to perform in terms of its statutory duties, the public are being exposed to the harmful practices of Gordon as detailed herein.”
In the past three years, Gordon has paid more than R4.5 million to clients. In 2000, 2007 and 2008 the council found him guilty after complaints about his work.
Attorney Gary Austin, who represents the four, said they have had their health, dignity, and bodily and psychological integrity impaired as a result of Gordon’s negligence.
One of the four lost a leg after an elective calf implant went wrong and infection set in.
A second had wanted the surgeon to reduce her 34DD breasts, which had been causing her chronic back problems for years, to a B cup. She still has size DD breasts, but her nipples are at different heights.
The woman experiences back pain; her legs occasionally go numb; her areolas (the ring of colour around the nipples) are no longer round but are pear-shaped; and she has lumps in her left breast.
Yet another patient was left grossly disfigured after the surgeon had performed elective breast and abdominal surgery.
She had consulted Gordon because three caesareans, a hysterectomy and breast-feeding had taken their toll on her breasts and abdomen.
A 34-year-old woman whose bra size was a G had her surgery in May this year. Her back was taking strain and her pain was worsened by constant headaches.
Pictures attached to the court documents show breasts with open wounds after the operation.
After infection set in, she lost her nipple, developed abscesses on her breast and the wounds would not heal. She is now dependent on others for simple tasks such as taking a shower.
Attached in the papers is a confirmatory affidavit of Dr Leslie Berkowitz, a plastic surgeon who has been a member of the Association of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons of Southern Africa for more than 30 years.
In his affidavit, he states that he has in the past sat as a peer-review member, where Gordon’s competence was called into question.
On two occasions, Gordon’s work was found to be substandard, but he refused to undergo further training.
Once, the affidavit says, a patient nearly lost her life after Gordon operated on her.
“Whilst all surgeons have a risk of complications developing, my experience and opinion is that where Dr Gordon is concerned, the number of complications is far above the norm and the pattern of complaints which has arisen from his work is too startling to not warrant an urgent investigation in the interest of the public,” Berkowitz’s affidavit continues.
HPCSA spokeswoman Bertha Scheepers-Peters said on Wednesday they had not yet received the summons.
Gordon said on Wednesday that he was not aware of the action his former patients had taken.