Thursday, 13 June, 2024
HomeMedico-LegalForeign-trained doctors go to court over delays in degree recognition

Foreign-trained doctors go to court over delays in degree recognition

Hundreds of foreign-trained South African doctors are still sitting at home because the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) has refused to recognise their degrees, writes Tania Broughton for MedicalBrief.

In the latest legal skirmish, Dr Karen Andrea Naicker and 88 others – supported by the South African Internationally Trained Health Professions Association (SAITHPA) – have launched an application in the Gauteng High Court (Pretoria) seeking to compel the HPCSA and the Medical and Dental Professional Board, to either affirm or deny the recognition of their institution of studies within 14 days of the court handing down its much awaited decision, failing which, they must be allowed to sit their final board exams.

“Our lives as doctors are in limbo,” Naicker said. While the circumstances of each of the applicants differs, they all studied at medical training institutions based in China, Ukraine, Argentina, Turkey, Nigeria, Zambia, Russia and Mauritius.Some were granted scholarships, at the behest of South African government departments.

Naicker said they were bringing the application as a “last resort, after months, if not years, of waiting” for a decision on the status of their applications for registration as medical interns. “It is our aspiration to practice our profession in our home country, South Africa, by applying for registration with the first and second respondents. It is our case that the first and second respondent has either failed to take a decision as per the facts in our case or has made a decision which falls to be reviewed and set aside under the Promotion of Administrative Justice Act.

Naicker said some of the applicants were sent abroad to study medicine at the behest of the Department of Health in the Free State and the Department of Education, Mpumalanga Province, to augment the shortage of skills in South Africa.

However, when they came home, they were blocked from registering for practice because the HPCSA did not recognise their institutions of study, while countries such as the USA and Canada did.

“We were informed that the curriculum offered at our institutions of study would need to be reviewed and recognised by the HPCSA before the registration will be processed. To date, they have failed to do so.”

Naicker said all the applicants fulfilled two key requirements for registration. The universities they studied at were listed in the World Directory of Medical Schools and their qualifications have been verified and authenticated by the Educational Commision for Foreign Medical Graduates.

“It follows therefore, that upon submission of our application for registration and in compliance with the Act, we would be entitled to write the (board) examinations. “There are no other requirements….and any hindrance to this is unlawful and violates our right to practice our profession under the Constitution.”

Naicker said she had been awarded a scholarship by the Russian Federation Government to study for a medical degree at Kazan State Medical University from October 2014 to July 2021. The scholarship agreement was managed by the Department of Higher Education & Training (DHET). In April 2022, after submitting all the required documents, she was informed that the curriculum needed to be reviewed and she needed to submit further documents, which she did.

She was assisted by the DHET, which motivated that she should be permitted to sit for the board examinations. The respondents did not respond.

In August, SAITHPA intervened on her behalf. They also made comprehensive input on the plight of South African foreign trained doctors to an investigative task team set up by the DHET. In spite of the HPCSA and the Medical and Dental Board meeting several times between September 2021 and November 22, no decisions were ever conveyed to the applicants.

Naicker says she has now missed four sittings of board examinations in the meantime.
The other applicants complain of similar treatment. At least two were offered internships at hospitals but could not take up the posts. All have been asked to submit documents for the “review process” and all have done so.

Naicker says some of the applicants obtained their qualifications from global institutions recognised by the HPCSA, but they too had not been invited to sit for board examinations, and they too were not given any reasons for “this long delay”.

“The applicants have made application to register with the first respondent from as early as January 2019 to December 2022. This delay in processing their applications displays not only unreasonable but stroppy and irrational conduct.”

Advocate Rene Govender, the head of the legal desk at SAITHPA, said the application was filed in early April and the respondents had not filed any opposing papers. “While indications are that the HPCSA may wish to settle the matter, our attorneys have now been instructed to set the matter on the unopposed roll and thereafter apply for a court date,” she said.

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