Durban - The fear of riding in the back of a police van or even handcuffed has caused some doctors to have second thoughts about performing intricate and lifesaving surgical procedures.
Their angst stemmed from last month’s highly publicised arrest and court appearance of two Johannesburg doctors, paediatric surgeon Peter Beale, 73, and anaesthetist Abdulhay Munshi, 56, who were accused of medical negligence.
Ten-year-old Zayyaan Sayed’s death resulted in Munshi and Beale facing culpable homicide charges.
Zayyaan had undergone a routine nissen fundoplication, a laparoscopic procedure for his gastroesophageal reflux condition, at the Netcare Park Lane Clinic, Johannesburg, in October.
The youngster’s death led to Netcare suspending the doctors from practising at their facilities.
They appeared at the Johannesburg Magistrate’s Court on December 17 and were given R10000 bail each.
The matter will resume in March.
Some reports included instances where other families had levelled negligence accusations against Beale.
Doctors roundly sympathised with the family. However, many were critical of the National Prosecuting Authority’s failure to investigate Beale’s and Munishi’s alleged acts of negligence before their arrests.
Durban-based orthopaedic surgeon Dr Rinesh Chetty started a petition last week that spoke out against how the matter was handled.
By yesterday it went beyond 46000 signatures from local and overseas supporters.
Section 3.2 of the Inquest Act calls for medical experts to ascertain the exact cause of Zayyaan’s death.
Chetty said he and other medics couldn’t understand why the Inquest Act was ignored prior to the arrests.
“I have never seen other professionals treated like that, even if they were proven criminals.”
Chetty said that the incident affected doctors almost immediately.
“Literally, the next day there were doctors complaining, asking who will be next to face criminal charges.”
He believed that this precedent- setting arrest would in future see a change in patients’ expectations.
“Patients and their families will now expect police to arrest doctors without an inquest being held whenever they suffer a loss,” Chetty said.
An intensive care unit specialist, who asked not to be named, said sometimes patients had to have delicate procedures even though their chances of survival were slim.
“We perform those procedures with the hope of saving lives. Given what has happened, we will be reluctant to challenge the odds because of the consequences we could face.”
The doctor said that it could also give rise to another scenario.
“Patients’ medical costs could rocket because doctors, out of the fear of missing something, will explore every possible medical option.
“Patients get angry for a variety of reasons. Will they now call the police because they waited 45 minutes for treatment?”
A Durban gynaecologist, who also did not want to be named, said that doctors were bound by the Hippocratic Oath and accordingly no doctor would intentionally harm or kill a patient.
“There is a fine line between medical negligence and the consequences of unavoidable surgery. The fine line between creating a problem in surgery and healing someone is a matter of a few millimetres.
“The Health Professions Council of SA (HPCSA) monitors the actions of doctors,” said the gynaecologist.
Dr Anil Bramdev, secretary of the KZN Specialist Network, said his organisation was outraged by the handling of the matter.
Bramdev said medical negligence shouldn’t be handled like a “common crime” and required peer review.
He said there was a shortage of specialist doctors and already some practitioners were considering opportunities elsewhere.
Dr Angelique Coetzee, head of the SA Medical Association, said that their body required the HPCSA, the regulatory body for practitioners, to stipulate mediation processes between the families and doctors immediately when such incidents occurred.
Coetzee said had there been mediation between Zaayyan’s family and doctors it could have prevented the controversial arrests.
About the NPA not adhering to the Inquest Act, Daphney Chuma, HPCSA spokesperson, said the council had no jurisdiction over the NPA and could not dictate how criminal cases were managed.
Chuma confirmed that they had no involvement in the matter Beale and Munshi face.
Phindi Mjonondwane, NPA spokesperson, insisted that the authority had a prima facie case against both doctors, hence the matter was enrolled for criminal proceedings.
“Prosecutorial decisions are informed by what is contained in the docket. Doctors are not immune to prosecution and where evidence at our disposal dictates that criminal proceedings should be instituted, the NPA will not hesitate to do so,” Mjonondwane said.