Paramedic in drunk driver blood-drawing fiasco

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The allegedly irregular appointment of a paramedic to draw blood from suspected drunk drivers at Durban Metro Police roadblocks over the past 10 years has turned into a thorny issue for prosecuting authorities, according to a Sunday Tribune report. Although the paramedic’s qualifications include a course in phlebotomy – the practice of drawing blood from patients for laboratory testing – legislation has it that blood samples for criminal prosecutions should be taken by a ‘registered medical practitioner or nurse’.

According to criminal lawyer Leo Govender, paramedics do not fall under the category of medical practitioners. Arrive Alive legal expert Alto Swanepoel agreed, saying a medical practitioner generally referred to a practising doctor.

The report says representing a Durban motorist in the Chatsworth Magistrate’s Court last week, Govender convinced the prosecution to withdraw drunken-driving charges against his client, Poobendren Pillay, as the blood sample in question had not been taken by a doctor or registered nurse but by ambulance emergency assistant Ifraan Bux, who had been employed part-time by metro police over the past 10 years.

Govender said the case opened the door for hundreds of people bust for drunk driving (through blood samples taken by Bux that had tested positive for alcohol levels above the legal limit) to appeal against their convictions. Several other drunk-driving cases, where Bux had taken blood samples, have since been withdrawn from court rolls in Durban.

The report says Bux was devastated that a case involving him had been thrown out of court without him having been subpoenaed to present his qualifications. “I have been defamed and publicly accused of fraud,” he said, providing a copy of his certificate of registration with the Health Professions Council of South Africa and a long-service certificate from the Department of Health ‘in appreciation of 20 years of continuous, consistent and satisfactory service’.

“I have been a paramedic for 37 years,” said Bux, whose credentials and good service record were verified by Rajen Naidoo, Emergency Medical and Rescue Services district manager, and Shane Pillay, a lecturer at the Department of Health’s College of Emergency Care, where Bux had trained. “It’s crazy that senior Durban Metro officials are now trying to turn Bux into the scapegoat in this fiasco,” said Pillay, who added that if it was true that legislation did not permit a paramedic to draw blood for criminal prosecution purposes, the fault lay with Durban Metro having employed Bux over the past 10 years to assist at roadblocks.

“We now have a situation where drivers who were legitimately tested for high alcohol levels in their blood are getting off. They are the people who should be named and shamed, and convicted in court,” said Pillay.

The head of Metro Police’s internal investigations unit, Parbhoo Sewpersadh, said the circumstances surrounding Bux’s appointment were being probed, the report says.

Sunday Tribune report

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