Petition for arrested paediatric surgeon Dr Peter Beale, anaesthetist gets massive support
They believe the culpable homicide charges against the medical professionals were premature.
Beale, 73, and Munshi, 56, were arrested after Zayyaan Sayed, 10, died following a routine laparoscopic operation at Johannesburg’s Park Lane Hospital last October.
The operation was expected to last an hour and a half but took almost four.
Zayyaan’s lung collapsed soon after surgery. He was taken to the intensive care unit, but died.
The pair, accused of negligence, were suspended from the hospital pending an investigation by Netcare.
The Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) is conducting its own investigation into the boy’s death.
But before the investigations were completed, the pair were criminally charged with culpable homicide.
In December, both doctors handed themselves over to the Hillbrow police and appeared in the Johannesburg Magistrate’s Court on December 17.
They were subsequently released on R10 000 bail each and the matter was adjourned to March.
However, the charges did not sit well with Durban orthopaedic surgeon, Rinesh Chetty.
He started the Change.org petition called #dropitandwait SA doctor’s profession and patient care under threat.
On Change.org Chetty said that he did not like bullies.
“I love my profession and I will protect it at all costs. #SADoctorsUnite.”
Chetty told the POST that the doctors were arrested based on media reports and before any inquest, medical-legal or negligence review were completed.
“Our council and board have asked the police to wait, but due to possible political and media pressure the doctors were arrested.
“The NPA did not wait, and hence this has sent shock waves through the medical profession. Doctors have asked the departments of health and justice to please clarify what has happened, and despite our numerous pleas, nothing has been said or addressed.”
He said media reports had caused a major issue.
“It has not been helped by the fact that all doctors are bound by a confidential policy and that there was an active medical investigation going on about the case.”
He said since the arrest and public outcry, investigations were now clouded and even stalled.
“The poor family will not get the answers they need or be able to move on in their grief with all this anger.”
The petition, which is addressed to the South African Department of Justice, the Director of the National Prosecuting Authority, the South African Department of Health and the South African Minister of Health, called for due processes to be followed.
“Drop the criminal case allow the medico-legal investigation to take place. Make an informed decision after all the facts and evidence have been reviewed by both medical and legal experts.
“Stop this unprovoked and unprecedented attack on the medical profession.
“It will only cause harm. The doctors and their legal teams are co-operating. Was there a need for handcuffs, jail and police vans?” read the petition.
Several medical organisations have since rallied around the doctors and have signed the petition in support.
Dr Schalk Burger, president of the South African Spine Society, said cases like these were generally complex.
Burger shared concern over the doctors being unable to generate an income while awaiting the conclusion of the process, as well as their grief, anxiety and the public humiliation they were facing.
The Association of Surgeons of South Africa believed that surgery and anaesthesia could not be regarded as precise arts.
“The spectre of adverse events, including death, is ever-present. We will engage with the national minister of health to frame legislation providing immunity from criminal charges for surgeons and anaesthetists in all cases until due processes have been completed.”
Phillip Webster, president of the South African Orthopaedic Association, opposed the actions of the NPA, saying he believed it was creating a potentially dangerous precedent that could have serious repercussions for clinical autonomy in the future.
Dr Moogandra Naidoo, chairman of the KZN Specialist Network, said as far as they were aware, there had never been a warrant of arrest issued for a healthcare practitioner in a criminal matter and such issues were normally handled via a summons or warning.
“Why is it necessary to treat medical professionals like common criminals, by handcuffing and then placing them in an overcrowded holding cell, pending their transfer to court in a police vehicle with sirens wailing?” Naidoo asked.
Dr Angelique Coetzee, chairperson of the South African Medical Association, said the accused doctors had rights and were innocent until proven guilty.
“Medicine is inherently risky, and severe consequences are unfortunately not uncommon - even when there are no mistakes involved. Until an investigation is concluded, there are not yet enough facts to make any medical conclusions.”
Daphney Chuma, of the HPCSA, said if the legal approach used in the case of Beale and Munshi was perpetuated, the board was concerned that medical doctors would in future allow patients to die naturally without intervening, for fear of being criminally prosecuted.
Bulelwa Makeke, spokesperson for the NPA, said: “Even though there are still investigations to be conducted, from the evidence already in the docket, there appears to be a prima facie case against both the accused. Nothing prevents the NPA from using a warrant to ensure someone accused of a crime goes to court.”
According to reports, several more families also came forward to complain about Beale and Mushni’s alleged negligence.