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Cape Town - Two doctors have lodged an application to bar the media and the public from a hearing into alleged unprofessional conduct.
The hearing was scheduled to go ahead before a Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) conduct committee on Wednesday.
When the Cape Times arrived, doctors Kambu Bambi and Kashasha Mwenda objected to having their photographs taken, saying it was an invasion of their privacy.
Mwenda grabbed a camera from the hand of the newspaper’s photographer, then used a cellphone to film the Cape Times’s news team. They further insisted that the media was not permitted to attend the proceedings.
The two are accused of getting other people to “stand in” for them at Nolungile Community Health Centre in Khayelitsha in March, 2010, without having informed their locum agency.
Suspicions about their identities were first raised when nurses noticed the so-called Bambi making phone calls while consulting with patients. According to a transcript of a previous sitting of the conduct committee in March, the man alleged to be Bambi had at one point diagnosed a girl patient, apparently merely anxious about her exams, as having a serious heart condition.
When the hearing was to continue on Thursday, Mwenda’s advocate, Sibongile Morara, brought an application for it to be held “in camera”, effectively preventing the media, or any member of the public who does not have a direct interest in the proceedings, from attending.
Morara feared her client was being subjected to a “trial by media”, saying it was a sensitive issue because the hearing dealt with doctors and their reputations.
“It could be of great prejudice to my client,” she said.
Bambi, who is representing himself, indicated he also did not want the media present. He argued that the names of patients might be mentioned during the proceedings and that this would violate their rights to confidentiality.
Committee chairwoman Joan Adams, an advocate, said that it was a “serious matter” to exclude the media and certain sections of the public from such a hearing.
In order to do so, she said, they had to cite case law on which to base their arguments.
Advocate Meshack Mapholisa, acting for the pro forma complainant, “vehemently” opposed the application. He said that according to the Health Professions Act, the public was allowed to attend conduct committee hearings.
The defence, he added, could only bring an application to bar the public in certain circumstances, which did not apply in Bambi and Mwenda’s case.
“The public is involved here and the HPCSA has a duty to protect the public,” said Mapholisa.
The Cape Times, meanwhile, has also made a bid to join in opposing the doctors’ application.
Morara requested more time to prepare arguments.
The committee was expected to hear the application on Friday morning.