Friday, 19 April, 2024
HomeMedico-LegalJudge rules in favour of ‘miracle doctor’ and against hospital

Judge rules in favour of ‘miracle doctor’ and against hospital

A Western Cape judge has found in favour of a leading oncologist whose admission and practising privileges at Life Vincent Pallotti Hospital were terminated because of his inappropriate conversations with female colleagues.

Dr Louis Kathan – whose patients had said they would suffer “irreversible damage without him” – had talked to female colleagues about strip clubs, lap dances and how he preferred blondes. The choice between allowing Kathan to continue his work, or the potential death of patients, was what Judge Derek Wille was asked to consider in two urgent applications to the High Court.

The applications were by 17 cancer patients who took Life Vincent Pallotti Hospital and Life Healthcare Holdings to court for terminating Kathan’s admission and practising privileges at the hospital. Kathan, described by his patients as a “miracle doctor”, heads Kathan Oncology, which still operates out of Vincent Pallotti.

In November, the judge had issued a provisional interdict enabling Kathan to retain a presence at the hospital, which would remain in effect until the resolution by a court of his dismissal.

The dispute between Kathan and the Life Healthcare group had been sent for private mediation, which was unsuccessful. The matter was also not before the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA), the judge noted.

Carry on as usual

Examples of Kathan’s behaviour were contained in court papers by Craig Koekemoer, a business operations executive at Life Healthcare Holdings, who described the doctor’s habit of chit-chat around female colleagues about strip clubs, lap dances and how he preferred blondes. He also allegedly made homophobic and racist statements.

Two of the staff eventually resigned, and Koekemoer said the situation became so unbearable that a chaperone was appointed to accompany the specialist.

“The chaperone was entirely successful in protecting the radiation therapy unit’s staff, as Kathan had threatened and intimidated them,” Koekemoer said.

The judge said that at this point the hospital should have been guided by policy about unacceptable or undesirable conduct by a medical practitioner.

“The incident … was the first occurrence and not of a nature that qualified for immediate termination,” he noted.

Public interest 

The decision to terminate Kathan’s contract “affected members of the public” and “effectively denied these cancer patients access to a skilled specialist in stereotactic and brain tumour oncology”.

The action had also undermined their right to healthcare.

“Private hospitals must consider the public interest when making decisions that impact the public,” Wille noted.

Kathan was “a renowned and respected oncologist regarded as this facility’s most skilled and well-informed neuro-oncologist”.

This was not disputed, the judge found.

Kathan’s work had been regarded as “exceptional” by other medical experts, and his patients and professional colleagues had confirmed the efficacy of his work in saving lives.

Satisfied requirements

The judge found the interim relief application satisfied several requirements, including that the hospital had terminated Kathan’s employment without giving him prior notice and no rehabilitation plan had been implemented.

“The issue of irreparable harm weighed heavily with me when considering the interim relief chartered for by the applicants (the patients),” Wille said.

Kathan’s patients had insisted that if he were not available to treat them at the radiation unit housed at the hospital, “they harboured severe concerns about suffering irreversible damage to their health and treatment regimes”.

“Based on the specific facts … I determined that the termination decision was indeed an administrative action,” said the judge.

The courts were “enjoined to provide a remedy where there is some discrimination with no other remedy available” and some of the applicants in this case faced discrimination that was “potentially life-threatening”.

Wille said that he had “anxiously considered the potential outcomes that the applicants had in the review application, considering both the administrative law arguments and the contractual arguments” and that the prerequisites had been firmly established.


Daily Maverick article – Why judge granted cancer patients interim relief for ‘miracle doctor’ with questionable staff relations (Open access)


See more from MedicalBrief archives:


Cancer patients granted interdict to keep dismissed oncologist at Cape hospital





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