In the face of widespread public disbelief and criticism, a Western Cape Health internal review has hastily reversed the findings of a disciplinary panel that fired one doctor and suspended two others after they “stole” two broken, written-off, chairs to fix, at their own expense, for the doctors’ tea room at Tygerberg Hospital, reports MedicalBrief.
The sanctions, imposed by the panel’s presiding officer, Ms Shameem Modack-Robertson, drew condemnation and anger, both nationally and internationally. An online petition demanding their reinstatement drew more than 16,000 signatures, within days.
Two of the doctors, Dr Mathew de Swardt and Dr Kim Morgan, immediately approached the Commission for Conciliation Mediation and Arbitration after De Swardt was fired and Morgan was given a written warning and suspended for a month. A third doctor, Dr Manie Domingo, had completed his specialisation when the sanction was handed down and already left the employment of Tygerberg, however would have still reputationally been affected by the sanctions.
Western Cape Health, which appears to have been taken aback at the scale of the response, would not respond to detailed questions from MedicalBrief regarding the original disciplinary findings by Modack-Robertson, but on Wedesday issued a stement:
“Upon consideration, the [Western Cape Health] Minister has set aside the dismissal of Dr De Swardt and he has been reinstated. The dismissal was replaced with a final written warning. The suspensions of Drs Morgan and Domingo have also been substituted with final written warnings.
“The doctors have the right to lodge a dispute with the Public Health and Social Development Sectoral Bargaining Council ( PHSDSBC).
“Appropriate support will be provided to the doctors to assist them in completing their specialist training.”
Michael Bagraim — Democratic Alliance shadow minister of employment and labour, as well as attorney for two of the doctors, said “This change in outcome proves that support in numbers can have an immeasurable effect on people's futures.”
”Effectively, De Swardt was reinstated with immediate effect, allowing him to complete his specialisation. Morgan had her suspension removed and will return to her clinical and academic duties, with immediate effect."
Bagraim said that his clients had been “overwhelmed by the enormous support from not only the medical profession, but from the general public. It's heartening to see everyone still willing to rally behind their public servants.
“We would like to personally thank the media for their support, all the signatories of a petition, which was initiated and driven by work colleagues, as well as those who personally took the time to reach out to us. The media and petition signatories have undoubtedly played an undeniable role in driving the internal review.”
The South African Society of Anaesthesiologists had come out with a firm statement in support of the doctors, with CEO Natalie Zimmelman saying that South African healthcare system, and in particular the public sector, could not afford to lose three anaesthetists.
Although the reversal is to be welcome, it still leaves questions over the nature of bureaucratic processes in Western Cape Health, which ironically is considered to be the best-run of the provincial health departments. An indication of this attitude of non-accountability to the public was their failure to answer any of the questions that MedicalBrief put to them, or to release when asked, information or documents that are in the public domain. MedicalBrief's questions to Western Cape Health included the following:
+ The findings of the disciplinary panel are in the public domain and we are advised by the lawyer acting for the doctors that they have no objection to the release of this document. May we please have a copy of the findings?
+ As, no doubt should be the Western Cape Health minister, we are interested in the pattern in what the province's authorities consider to be serious matters deserving of disciplinary sanctions and the nature of any subsequent punishments imposed. Please may we have a list of all disciplinary charges, hearings and findings, at Tygerberg Hospital in the past 18 months?See: Doctors' careers destroyed for 'stealing' broken chairs