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The Health Professions Council of South Africa is concerned about the rising number of sexually related misconduct complaints being laid against doctors.
In the past three years alone, 120 complaints of sexual misconduct against doctors have been laid at the HPCSA.
HPCSA spokeswoman Bertha Scheepers-Peters said the council had been investigating numerous cases over the past five years and there had been an alarming increase in the number of cases that have gone on to a formal inquiry.
Between April 1, 2012 and December 2012, six matters relating to unacceptable and inappropriate relationships with patients were finalised through a formal inquiry stage, and penalties were imposed on those doctors.
These cases included:
* A doctor was fined R5 000 for having a relationship with his patient and for flirting with another patient who was married. He elected to pay a fine rather than appear before an inquiry.
A doctor, who was found guilty of carrying on a sexual relationship with a patient for three years and having sex with her at his consulting rooms, was slapped with a three-year suspension from practice, wholly suspended for five years provided did not commit the same offence again.
* A Congolese doctor was given a suspended sentence and a R5 000 fine for allowing an unqualified doctor to practise in his surgery. That unqualified doctor had also done a vaginal examination on a female patient who had complained of a sore throat, and then made inappropriate remarks about her genitals.
* A female psychologist was suspended from practising for a year after being found guilty of engaging in a relationship with a client for two years. Her suspension was wholly suspended for five years on condition that she is not convicted of a similar conduct during her suspension.
In light of the sexual misconduct complaints, the council has engaged doctors on this matter and given them some guidelines on how to avoid litigation and how to handle intimate examinations without overstepping their boundary of privilege and power.
“Inappropriate words and actions were also found to cross professional boundaries, and most allegations of sexual misconduct are due to inadvertent touching – such as taking blood pressure with an arm cuff, listening to the chest with a stethoscope, etc. Communication is paramount, and doctors must explain why and how a procedure will be carried out, keeping in mind the patient’s cultural, social and religious boundaries,” said Scheepers-Peters.
She said it was important for doctors not wanting to face alleged misconduct cases to explain some procedures in detail and ask for the patient’s consent before going ahead.
This, however, is not required in an emergency as doctors are supposed to do whatever they can to save a patient’s life.