Wednesday, 19 June, 2024
HomeMPS ColumnWhy it's important to update personal details with the HPCSA

Why it's important to update personal details with the HPCSA

It is critical to keep the HPCSA updated on changes to contact details, especially email addresses, writes Dr Yash Naidoo, case manager at Medical Protection, who writes that failure to do so cost one practitioner a R10 000 penalty even though he was found not guilty of the complaint against him.

Naidoo writes:

Last month, we wrote about how we are seeing an improved efficiency in the HPCSA’s preliminary handling of complaints against practitioners. We also noted the HPCSA’s willingness to consider taking steps to make their investigation processes more efficient and compassionate, as well as recent amendments to their professional conduct inquiry process, which may help curtail the often lengthy ordeal.

Considering the mental, emotional and financial toll the process can have on practitioners and patients alike, these developments are welcome.

While we hope to continue engaging positively with the HPCSA with a view to refining the process, there is one issue we see far too often that stifles the process, and it is squarely within our members’ control, and sometimes leads to sanctions against them.

The problem is that in many cases, the HPCSA does not have a practitioner’s latest email address in its records.

This is understandable. We may elect to change our email address over time, and for many, the email address used when first registering with the HPCSA all those years ago might have become outdated and replaced with something else down the line. But it is crucial to make sure the HPCSA has your latest email address – the one you use and monitor daily – in its records.

Why is this so important? The answer lies in the early 2020 amendments to the regulations relating to the HPCSA’s professional conduct inquiry process.

The effect of the amendments was that a practitioner’s email address, as it appears in the records of the HPCSA, may be deemed the address of the practitioner for communications.

After the HPCSA receives a complaint about a practitioner, that person must be notified in writing and a written response to the complaint requested within 40 working days.

According to the regulations, the clock starts ticking on the day the HPCSA emails the notification to the practitioner at the address which is in the HPCSA’s records.

Given the regulations, the HPCSA is within its rights to expect a response is due 40 days after having notified a practitioner of the complaint via email at the address saved in its system. Thankfully, in our experience, they are not too rigid in this regard and often take steps to try to contact a practitioner via a phone call or send reminders and warnings about overdue responses.

It is not uncommon for a member to approach Medical Protection for assistance after the HPCSA has provided ample time and in many cases, has re-sent the complaint, to a practitioner’s new email address, affording some reasonable leeway.

However, this can lead to self-created urgency on the part of the member, Medical Protection and its experts, in preparing a well thought- out and comprehensive response.

While extensions are generally granted within reason, we have seen cases where the HPCSA has had no choice but to consider a complaint in the absence of a response by a practitioner. Remember, the HPCSA (and the complainant) cannot wait indefinitely.

A consequence of not having your correct details on the HPCSA’s system can come in the form of a sanction and penalty.

The regulations allow the HPCSA to summon a practitioner to a meeting to inquire why he or she did not respond to its correspondence. After considering this explanation, the HPCSA must find the practitioner guilty of contempt, and impose a penalty of a caution, a reprimand, a fine, or any combination of these.

This is not an academic issue. I was recently supporting a member in a matter in which the practitioner’s explanation to a complaint was accepted by the HPCSA. It found the practitioner did not breach any duty of care and acted reasonably and appropriately in the circumstances. However, the HPCSA nonetheless imposed a penalty of R10 000 for contempt of the HPCSA.

In doing so, the HPCSA reminded the practitioner that the onus was on the practitioner to “check your emails and to respond to Council within the stipulated time”. It is important to remember that, as we have previously discussed, HPCSA fines must be paid by the practitioner personally and may not be paid by their defence organisation or professional indemnity provider.

It is not only in the context of complaints that it is important to keep the HPCSA updated.

Doing so is part of our obligation as professionals to properly administer our practice. We have previously written about this important obligation. From an administrative point of view, keeping the HPCSA’s records updated helps to ensure practitioners pay their yearly registration fees and thus remain lawfully entitled to practise.

Failure to pay your fees on time can result in suspension from the register. Once suspended, a practitioner may not practise until reinstated. Practising while suspended is not allowed, and practitioners will also not enjoy the benefits of membership of a defence organisation or indemnity provider.

Last, the HPCSA occasionally sends important information to practitioners which should be accessed and considered, such as legal bulletins, surveys, notifications about online systems issues, invitations to events, and other relevant matters. These crucial updates will be missed if your details are not captured correctly.

It is essential that every registered practitioner keeps the HPCSA updated. If you are unsure whether the HPCSA holds your correct email address, we strongly recommend you contact them via their website to check.

It may also be prudent to keep your own record of any confirmation of, or changes to your details, by retaining copies of the relevant emails between you and the HPCSA, or screenshots of the website reflecting your correct details.

While we are unable to assist with registration issues, members are entitled to ask for assistance with HPCSA complaints and should get in touch with us as soon as possible after notification by the HPCSA.

 

See more MPS columns from MedicalBrief archives:

 

HPCSA amendments offer hope

 

Alternative approaches could lessen HPCSA delays and mental stress

 

HPCSA fines – who pays?

 

How to navigate medico-legal matters in healthcare practice

 

 

 

 

 

 

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