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Durban - Pinetown anaesthetist Leon Rheeder has been given court sanction to continue with his practice despite having been slapped with a three-month suspension by a disciplinary committee of the Medical and Dental Professional Board for failing to monitor a patient.
Rheeder approached the Durban High Court last month asking for his suspension to be put on hold while he appealed against the penalty. But Judge Piek Koen ruled that Rheeder had not brought the application properly because he had not joined the disciplinary committee in the proceedings.
The anaesthetist rectified this and the matter was argued before Acting Judge Peter Olsen, who ruled in his favour, granting an interim order allowing him to run his practice.
Rheeder pleaded guilty to the charge of failing to monitor a patient, admitting that he had left his patient, Ian Fordyce, 70, to go to the toilet. Fordyce was undergoing a cataract operation. He reacted to a drug, slipped into a coma and died the following month.
Rheeder’s lawyers argued that, by imposing the suspension, his constitutional rights to practise and appeal against his punishment were being violated because, by the time it was heard, he would have served out the suspension.
Lawyers for the board and the health professionals council described his conduct as “deplorable” and argued that the legislature had not provided for any suspension of a penalty pending an appeal for good reason.
Judge Olsen said he could see the merits on both sides.
“It seems to me, however, that an overriding factor is the fact that if interim relief is not granted, the appeal becomes an illusory benefit.”
He said the suspension had not been imposed because of any lack of faith in Rheeder’s ability, or because of any conviction that if he was allowed to continue in practice, he was likely to commit the same offence. It had been imposed because of public interest in punishing him and disapproval of his conduct.
He said the prejudice to Rheeder in insisting that he serve out his time pending appeal had been underestimated.
“When a medical practitioner is kept out of his practice, he incurs loss… That loss is irrecoverable,” he said
The matter has been adjourned to August 22.