Western Cape doctor fired for sexual assault back as locum

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A doctor fired by the Western Cape Health for sexually assaulting a nurse after giving her a date-rape drug was back at work this week. The Times reports that Dr Srinivasan Govender was treating patients at Karl Bremer Hospital in Bellville where he was sent as a locum by a recruitment agency used by the department.

The doctor was fired in September by Labour Court judge Hilary Rabkin-Naicker after Health MEC Nomafrench Mbombo challenged the outcome of a disciplinary hearing that allowed him to keep his job. The hearing chair transferred Govender from the Khayelitsha Clinic, where the sexual assault took place, and demoted him.

According to the report, it has learnt that the doctor, who has worked in the public health system for 28 years, was back at work three months later as a locum at Helderberg Hospital in Somerset West. The victim of his assault complained to the department on 25 February that he was now working at Karl Bremer. She was told urgent action would be taken.

But, the report says, the department has claimed ignorance. Spokesperson Mark van der Heever said: “The background checking and verification of locum staff is the responsibility of the appointing agency. We were thus not aware of this particular doctor being contracted via an agency. We appreciate being made aware of the contracting of the person through the agency. We will address it with them as well as discuss how we can collectively prevent this from happening again.”

The report says the department declined to respond to further questions. But on Friday, van der Heever’s boss, Marika Champion, said: “I can confirm that with immediate effect the staff member will not be utilised on further shifts in our service.”

The nurse, who regarded Govender as a “trusted friend” before the sexual assault, said that hearing about his re-employment was “like a stab in my heart”. She said: “After he was fired I felt like I could finally move on after my life was turned upside down. I was away from work for about five months due to depression.”

The report says Govender was working at Karl Bremer last week, when he was contacted. “I’ve been advised not to make any comment at this stage,” he said.

According to court papers, Govender had sex with the nurse in the clinic’s maternity section in September 2016 after giving her ketamine through a drip to “lift her mood”. She had been suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder following an armed hijacking, and had discussed her condition with Govender. After she became disorientated and started to “feel very weird”, Govender started kissing her and had unprotected sexual intercourse with her, she said.

Rabkin-Naicker said in her ruling that the nurse had “no capacity to give informed consent to any act in respect of her body due to the infusion of the ketamine”. She added: “The misconduct by Dr Govender is aggravated by his professional position and the high ethical standards which he is expected to observe.”

The report says Govender’s sexual assault was one of the grievances aired recently in Parliament by senior staff from Khayelitsha District Hospital. They told a select committee they were often victimised for speaking out against corruption and declining clinical governance. The managers said when they wanted wrongdoers to be held accountable, they were intimidated and threatened with disciplinary action.

The Health Professions Council of SA said Govender was due to face a disciplinary hearing in September. If he was found guilty of improper or disgraceful conduct, he could be suspended or struck off, spokesperson Fezile Sifunda is quoted in the report as saying.

The nurse said she reported the sexual assault to the police but a captain advised her “to rather talk about it and resolve it on the side, as he (Govender) is suicidal”, and going to jail would “destroy his life and career”. When she arrived at a Khayelitsha police station to sign her statement, Govender was there, she said. In the presence of the captain, he apparently sobbed on his knees, begged her not to press charges and said he would rather “commit suicide or live on the streets than go to prison”.

The report says responding to queries, Western Cape Police spokesperson Captain FC van Wyk said: “The alleged behaviour by the mentioned member will not be tolerated and we will take appropriate action if the allegations can be substantiated. Crimes against women and children are on top of our priority list and we will use all resources at our disposal to protect the women and children of this province.”

The Times report

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