Arrest warrants for specialists a 'direct threat' to healthcare delivery

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Unprecedented arrest warrants for two medical specialists accused of medical negligence continues to cause waves, writes MedicalBrief. The SA Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (SASOG) has noted “with great concern the recent arrests” and called for urgent legal reform in this regard, while the SA Medical Association (SAMA) said the matter “should not be litigated in the media and become a political football”.

The two are paediatric surgeon Dr Peter Beale and anaesthetist Dr Abdullhay Munshi, accused of negligence in the death of a child in December 2019.

The South African Society of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists (SASOG) has responded to the arrest of the doctors.
Professor Leon Snyman, chair: SASOG medico-legal committee and Professor Greta Dreyer, president: SASOG write: SASOG notes with great concern the recent arrests of medical specialists for suspected medical negligence and again calls for urgent legal reform in this regard.

SASOG supports the opinions expressed by the South African Society of Anaesthesiologists (SASA) in its media release dated 13 December 2019 that the action of issuing a warrant of arrest is a direct threat to healthcare delivery in South Africa and is not in the interests of the health system – public or private.

While SASOG respects and fully supports the rule of law and the regulatory processes guiding investigations and the quest for justice, it is extremely concerned about unnecessary warrants for arrest and public humiliation of healthcare providers and the apparent use of this for political gain or personal retaliation.

Globally, reforms regarding medical culpable homicide have taken place or are under discussion in countries including India, New Zealand, Australia and the UK. SASOG believes that professional bodies should lead in the prevention, identification and management of medical negligence and should lead investigations in this regard.

SASOG acknowledges the extreme emotional distress caused by the untimely and unexpected death related to a medical event for the loved ones as well as for the healthcare providers involved. Most health interventions carry inherent risks where complications can and do occur and thus the potential for negative outcomes always remains part of the health care context. Not all complications or tragic outcomes are preventable and not all are due to professional negligence. These events, the possible explanations and contributing factors are complicated to investigate and made more complex by a health system that is beset by challenges.

SASOG supports a robust, fair and efficient legal process around all medically related adverse events and calls on the Department of Justice, the National Prosecuting Authority, the South African Police Service and regulatory bodies such as the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) to ensure this.

The two are paediatric surgeon Dr Peter Beale and anaesthetist Dr Abdullhay Munshi, accused of negligence in the death of a child in December 2019.

The South African Medical Association (SAMA) says it notes the warrants of arrest issued. It says it sympathises with the families, and hopes for a speedy resolution to the case to provide closure for all those involved.

“A proper investigation must be conducted to assess all the factors that may have played a role in the outcomes in the cases in which the doctors are accused of negligence. It is also necessary that these factors are addressed at a systems level to ensure they are not repeated in future,” says Dr Angelique Coetzee, chair of SAMA.

Coetzee says the case should not be litigated in the media and become a political football, and that the families of those who have suffered should be respected, while the proper investigations are underway by the relevant authorities such as the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA).

“The inclusion of medical professionals in the investigations is critical as these professionals understand the nuances of what might have gone wrong and that any investigations should be fair and transparent,” Coetzee notes.

She says the accused doctors have rights and are 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,” Coetzee concludes.

Beale, who was arrested for culpable homicide, has been suspended by the HPCSA. And, reports News24, his colleague Munshi, who was also arrested on the same charges, will face a process.

According to HPCSA CEO Dr Raymond Billa: "Beale was placed on suspension by an ad-hoc committee of the Medical and Dental Board on 10 December 2019, pending a full conduct inquiry later next year. The same process is being put in place for Dr Munshi, following the completion of the investigation into his matter too.”

"A suspension hearing is to be held early January 2020," Billa said.

HPCSA spokesperson Daphney Chuma is quoted in the report as saying that the regulatory body had received information regarding alleged unprofessional conduct by Beale and started an investigation. "Due to the seriousness of the complaints received, the HPCSA instituted a suspension hearing against Professor Beale," Chuma said.

Beale's suspension follows a complaint by businessman and father Mohammadh Sayed after his 10-year-old son, Zayyaan Sayed, died after the pair performed an operation on him earlier this year.

Following the suspension Beale, his lawyer, Jeanne Albertse, told News24 he has "effectively retired". "My client no longer conducts the practice of a paediatric surgeon. He has effectively retired from doing so," Albertse said.

Albertse said Beale was co-operating, adding: "My client … consented to his registration with the HPCSA as a paediatric surgeon being suspended with effect 10 December, 2019, pending the final adjudication of the complaints made against him with the HPCSA."

SAMA material

News24 report

News24 report

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