Whistleblower doctor claims victory

By Helen Bamford Time of article published Feb 3, 2008

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All charges against the prison doctor who blew the whistle on health conditions at Pollsmoor prison have been dropped.

And even though Dr Paul Theron cannot return to his position at the prison, he has claimed victory in his bitter legal battle with the departments of correctional services and health.

Theron was employed by the department of health, but was on secondment to Correctional Services.

Theron was suspended from his post at Pollsmoor by the Western Cape health department in July last year after complaining about conditions to the then-inspecting Judge of Prisons Nathan Erasmus.

Correctional Services Minister Ngconde Balfour also threatened a R500 000 defamation suit over a comment Theron wrote in which he claimed that the suspension of one of his colleagues had come from Balfour's office.

But on Friday all charges were dropped and tomorrow Theron starts working as a clinical forensic practitioner at Somerset hospital.

He said that in an ideal world he should have been able to return to Pollsmoor, but had realised that had he gone back he would have been limited in what he could do and would have been powerless to change anything.

"In theory I would still like to return, but with a hostile department of correctional services and a flaccid health department I wouldn't get very far."

In September, the Labour Court ruled that Theron be re-instated at Pollsmoor, but when he tried to go back to work he was refused access. "When I went back the head of security stopped me. The next day 30 or 40 guards and dogs were waiting," he said.

Theron was later transferred to the Lotus River Community Clinic prompting him to approach the Labour Court, claiming it was a demotion.

He described the action against him as a "character assassination that never went anywhere".

"Correctional Services tried to blacken my name and they used the Department of Health to try to destroy me as a medical practitioner and discipline me out of the service because I embarrassed them."

Theron said that the bitter legal spat had taken its toll on both him and his wife.

And his relationship with Pollsmoor is likely to continue because Theron now intends writing a book about his experiences as a doctor at one of South Africa's most notorious prisons.

He has 22 years' experience, first as a district surgeon and then as a clinical forensic practitioner, who examines victims of rape, abuse and sodomy as well as working on drunken-driving cases.

Theron, who is currently doing sessions at the clinical forensic unit at Victoria Hospital in Wynberg, is also considering setting up an NGO to promote health in prisons and to provide support to prisoners being released.

"I still plan to mobilise support for a real standard of care to be introduced at Pollsmoor and to stop the gangs from controlling the prison."

He says starting at Somerset hospital will be "something of an adventure".

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