The arrest of a TikTok influencer who called himself Dr Matthew Lani and regularly shared medical advice on social media has placed the spotlight on the emergence of fake doctors in South Africa as a cause for concern.
Lani was arrested at the weekend after claiming to be a graduate of Wits Medical School and an employee of Helen Joseph Hospital in Johannesburg, gaining unfettered access to the facility.
Thebe Matlhaku, Senior Underwriter for Medical Malpractice at ITOO Special Risks, says over the past three years, 124 fake medical doctors have been arrested around the country as a result of a campaign led by the HPSCA and the police, with 55 of the apprehensions taking place during the past 24 months.
“The emergence of the large number of unregistered or bogus doctors practising medicine in South Africa is alarming, and this type of conduct is putting the health of the public at risk.
“It is therefore encouraging that authorities are bringing these people to book, as they are playing with people’s lives and well-being,” said Matlhaku.
He points out that, in addition to possible criminal charges, there are serious ramifications for individuals posing as medical practitioners, as Section 40 of the Health Professions Act imposes hefty penalties on a medical practitioner who is unregistered in respect of any health profession but pretends to be so.
“There are some red flags that patients can look out for.
“For example, unregistered or fake doctors typically evade the system by working in cities and in the private sector, where they are not easily detected. Often, they will either only accept cash payments or work in the practice of a registered doctor,” he says.
“These individuals must be exposed and prevented from practising before they do serious harm. Unfortunately, bogus doctors operate without the necessary qualifications, registrations and ethical standards and can potentially cause very serious harm through misdiagnosis, inappropriate treatments and unregulated procedures.”