NW Health makes U-turn on controversial suspension of Prof Variava

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The controversial “precautionary suspension” of one of North West Health’s senior clinicians two weeks ago has been lifted, with Professor Ebrahim Variava returning to his post as head of internal medicine at the Klerksdorp Tshepong Hospital in North West on 29 June.

Spotlight reports that the U-turn on the precautionary suspension by Polaki Mokatsane, North West deputy director-general of hospitals and clinical support services, on 15 June, comes after outrage and public petitioning by Variava’s colleagues. It also follows week-long discussions between Variava, the MEC for Health Madoda Sambatha and administrator Jeanette Hunter. The North West Health Department has been under National Health Department administration since early 2018.

The report says Variava welcomed the unconditional lifting of his suspension. “I feel vindicated and I have been warmed and touched by the overwhelming support from doctors and patients – it kept my spirits up,” he said of dealing with the suspension that was slammed by some colleagues as “bizarre and bewildering”.

Hunter said that an investigation into the suspension and related matters “would be expanded to include a team of two seasoned professionals to determine whether management/administrative processes as well as the organisational structure contribute to tensions amongst staff”. She said the investigators would at the end of the process recommend remedial action and a reconciliation process for managers at the hospital. She did not give a timeline for when this would be completed.

The report says Sambatha’s allegations against Variava, made on Twitter and in a press statement on 17 June, included that he “acted against current COVID-19 guidelines, compromised limited number of test kits and acted in a manner suspicious of unapproved research”. Sambatha at the time also charged that Variava had been “obstructive to management in COVID-19 planning, failed and disregarded administrative protocol, including requesting computers from NGOs and instructing that these be installed in the wards without any approval”.

The statement went on to say that Variava had “threatened labour peace” by only testing certain members of the nursing staff and some patients, a decision that apparently upset labour unions.

Sambatha also called out Variava for his “tendency to write emails to external stakeholders such as the media, SECTION27 and different national government departments without any effort to engage internal problem-solving mechanisms or allowing management time to resolve issues”.

According to Spotlight, Variava however reiterated that clinicians and senior staff are in the best position to flag issues that need urgent intervention and that they have a duty to demand prompt intervention when it comes to having the medicines, equipment and leadership in place in order to save lives.

Full Spotlight report

See also

Suspended Prof ‘acted in a manner suspicious of unapproved research’


Health officials in bitter new clash with medical professionals

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