Responding to concern within the medical community over the abrupt suspension of Professor Ebrahim Variava, North West Health Department said the “serious allegations” against him included “acting against current COVID-19 guidelines, compromising the limited number of test kits and acting in a manner suspicious of unapproved research.”
The department confirmed that the Klerksdorp-Tshepong Hospital, the designated treatment facility for the coronavirus in the province, is now without a head of internal medicine after Variava's precautionary suspension.
The Times reports that Health MEC Madoda Sambatha said he had suspended Variava due to a series of serious allegations against him, which the department labelled as “unprofessional conduct”. Listing the charges, the department said he had “acted against current COVID-19 guidelines, compromised the limited number of test kits and acted in a manner suspicious of unapproved research.”
The department also said Variava had shown “failure and disregard of administrative protocols”, such as “requesting computers from (an) NGO and instructing that they be installed in the wards without any approval”. It also accused him of being “obstructive to management of the hospital in all meetings planned to prepare for COVID-19”.
Sambatha said he had placed Variava on precautionary suspension so that he does not meddle with their investigation. “This type of suspension means the employee still receives a full salary and benefits while suspended,” he said. It was not immediately clear whether Variava might be reinstated.
Sambatha said once the department had completed its investigation, Variava would be called for a disciplinary hearing, chaired by an independent body, where he would be afforded an opportunity to plead his case.
A group of Variava's colleagues have meanwhile shown their support for him by launching a campaign calling for his suspension to be overturned. The group said the suspension had “shocked his clinical, teaching and research colleagues”.
News24 reports that Variava, who has worked at the hospital for two decades, was reportedly suspended “without warning”. Sambatha said the department would appoint an independent body to handle the disciplinary process. “The independent body will be given seven days to complete the process and give me a report to consider. Until then, I will not interfere with administrative processes” he added.
"The North West Health Department has noted with concerns reaction of some members of the health profession and some speculations on public platforms regarding the precautionary suspension of Professor Ebrahim Variava. The department wishes to set the record straight on this matter," News24 quotes spokesperson Tebogo Lekgethwane as saying.
According to the department, a precautionary suspension is purely intended to ensure the integrity of an investigation. It said this was to ensure that internal investigations can take place without prejudice or interference, and that the principles of justice and the rule of law are upheld in the interests of all parties involved in cases of suspected misconduct.
The department also states that Variava is not the lead physician on COVID-19 in the province. "The NWDoH is, however, well aware of the contribution Prof Variava has made/makes to the work of the department, and of the structures and professionals within the NWDoH who collaboratively ensure that the right to healthcare is upheld within the province. The department further added that Variava and any other employee on precautionary suspension and/or under investigation remains innocent until proven otherwise.”
Variava's attorney, Imraan Haffegee, is quoted in News24 as sayingthat they remain hopeful that the matter will be resolved amicably, however "precautionary suspensions can and do cause prejudices".
Full report in The Times
Full News24 report
Full News24 report
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