Almost 50,000 people have signed a petition for authorities to drop the criminal case against paediatric surgeon Professor Peter Beale and anaesthetist Dr Abdulhay Munshi, says a Post report. They believe the culpable homicide charges against the medical professionals were premature.
Beale and Munshi were arrested after Zayyaan Sayed, 10, died following a routine laparoscopic operation at Johannesburg’s Park Lane Hospital last October. 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, the report says, 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 17 December. They were subsequently released on R10,000 bail each and the matter was adjourned to March.
The report says the charges did not sit well with Durban orthopaedic surgeon, Rinesh Chetty who has started the Change.org petition called #dropitandwait SA doctor’s profession and patient care under threat. Chetty is quoted in the report as saying 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 petition states: “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 SA Medical Association (SAMA).
Dr 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 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,” Dr 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,” Dr Coetzee concludes.
The HPCSA warns: “If the legal approach used in the case of Professor Beale and Dr Munshi is perpetuated, the board is concerned that medical doctors will in future allow patients to die naturally without their intervention for fear of being criminally prosecuted,” it said in a statement on Thursday.”
The Medical and Dental Professions Board, under the ambit of the HPCSA, said it believed deaths as a result of “care by a healthcare professional” should not go through criminal proceedings before proceedings in terms of the Inquest Act are concluded.”
“Therefore, the death of a person as a result of undergoing a procedure of therapeutic, diagnostic or palliative nature should be dealt with differently from other unnatural deaths.”
NPA spokesperson Bulelwa Makeke says: “As for arresting the doctors before the inquest was finished, Makeke says: "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."
And, she adds, nothing prevents the NPA from using a warrant to ensure someone accused of a crime goes to court.”
The HPCSA said it respected the rights of individuals to lay criminal charges against healthcare professionals but called for caution by the authorities.
“The board calls upon the legal authorities to exercise due diligence in terms of the laws of the country in dealing with death of persons undergoing a procedure of therapeutic, diagnostic or palliative nature,” it added.”
Other medical bodies have also backed the two, saying the situation was more complex than it looked.
According to a Sunday Tribune report, the fear of riding in the back of a police van or even handcuffed has caused some doctors to have second thoughts about performing intricate and lifesaving surgical procedures.
Section 3.2 of the Inquest Act calls for medical experts to ascertain the exact cause of Zayyaan’s death. Chetty said he and other medics couldn’t understand why the Inquest Act was ignored prior to the arrests. “I have never seen other professionals treated like that, even if they were proven criminals.”
Chetty said that the incident affected doctors almost immediately. A Durban gynaecologist, who also did not want to be named, said that doctors were bound by the Hippocratic Oath and accordingly no doctor would intentionally harm or kill a patient. “There is a fine line between medical negligence and the consequences of unavoidable surgery. The fine line between creating a problem in surgery and healing someone is a matter of a few millimetres. “The HPCSA monitors the actions of doctors,” said the gynaecologist.
Dr Anil Bramdev, secretary of the KZN Specialist Network, said in his report that his organisation was outraged by the handling of the matter. Bramdev said medical negligence shouldn’t be handled like a “common crime” and required peer review. He said there was a shortage of specialist doctors and already some practitioners were considering opportunities elsewhere.
About the NPA not adhering to the Inquest Act, the HPCSA’s Chuma said the council had no jurisdiction over the NPA and could not dictate how criminal cases were managed. Chuma confirmed that they had no involvement in the matter Beale and Munshi face.Post report Petition Sunday Tribune report