HPCSA finding placing PE heart surgeon under supervision is set aside

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A finding by the Health Professions Council of SA (HPCSA) that a Port Elizabeth heart surgeon should be allowed to work only under supervision after he watched sport on TV during surgery has been set aside by the Eastern Cape High Court (Port Elizabeth), reports The Herald. Controversial heart surgeon Dr Hamid Munir has been on special leave from his post as a senior cardiothoracic surgeon for two years.

In 2014, the former CEO of Livingstone Hospital, the late Dr Kobus Kotze, requested the HPCSA to do a competency assessment of Munir. This followed complaints against him when other doctors walked in on him and a colleague while they were watching cricket during a heart surgery.

The report say the Eastern Cape High Court (Port Elizabeth), however, found that the hearings, assessments and procedures leading to a finding that he should work only under supervision for two years were procedurally flawed and should be set aside.

Munir had been working at Port Elizabeths Provincial Hospital since 2004 as a heart surgeon but was barred from doing surgeries on his own and placed on special leave after the HPCSA did a competency assessment on him. The report says Munir then instituted proceedings against the council to have his competency assessment set aside. He also wanted to be issued with an unqualified certificate of registration.

Acting judge Albert Beyleveld ordered that the competency assessment be set aside but refused to order the HPCSA to provide Munir with the certificate. ‘It would clearly not be in the public interest for me to do so where the competency of the applicant to perform all forms of cardiothoracic surgery is still an issue which would have to be determined,’ Beyleveld said.

Munir also had an afterhours private practice at Life Mercantile Hospital, but was also barred from private practice for two years by the HPCSA. Life Healthcare confirmed that he subsequently left the hospital. In 2006, an internal department peer assessment recommended that he be sent for a one-year fellowship in Kuala Lumpur to be retrained.

In 2012, he was informed by the HPCSA that a complaint had been filed against him for unprofessional conduct. He was suspended from performing any heart surgeries but continued with thoracic surgeries. It was subsequently decided by the HPCSA that he would need to do a competency test on 6 June, 2014, which was later moved to 23 July, 2014.

Three reports were filed by the specialists doing the assessment, but Beyleveld said these were done on the basis of a personal interview and not on observing him in the theatre. The conclusion was that he should be assessed in an operating theatre.
Later that year, however, another meeting was held where it was decided that the matter was now closed. The recommendation of the specialists was that Munir required comprehensive remedial work and had to work under supervision until a substantive competency assessment had been undertaken.

The report says Munir then moved to Johannesburg and attended six months of supervisory service before resuming his position at Provincial Hospital as a heart surgeon. For more than 18 months, according to papers before court, he received no further communication from the HPCSA.

The three experts who assessed Munir during this time filed conflicting reports, Beyleveld said. He was assessed variably as excellent, not competent and adequate. The report says the HPCSA then placed him under supervision practice for two years and he was instructed to provide quarterly progress reports and stop working in private practice until the end of the supervisory period.

Munir’s legal team attacked this decision on the basis that it was procedurally flawed.

Beyleveld found that “procedurally fair administrative action did not occur in the present instance, more particularly as the applicant was not afforded an opportunity to make any representation regarding the assessments, which only came to his knowledge later, and to make any representations regarding the ultimate sanction that was imposed on him on 8 August 2017”.

The report says when approached, neither the HPCSA nor Munir commented on the judgment.

The Eastern Cape Health Department did not file papers in Munir’s case. The report says it also declined to comment.

The Herald report
HPCSA judgments 2014

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