Wednesday, November 29, 2006

power to the people

i watched recently in amazement as a story, so incredible it was difficult to believe even as i saw it, unfolded. but before we get to the crunch, allow me to take it back about a year and a half.

about a year and a half ago there was an expose on tv about a 'doctor' at our hospital that had lied on his application. he had in fact not passed medical school and was therefore not registered at the board. no one had bothered to check these most basic of credentials. probably no one thought to check. who would lie about such a thing? anyway, he was dismissed, or so it seemed. this individual promptly went to a certain university and after paying due fees to the correct corrupt officials, he was furnished with a degree. with this in hand he fairly easily overcame the minor obstacle of registration at the board. he was reinstated at our somewhat too forgiving (in my humble opinion) hospital.
anyway by all outward appearances he went on with his duties. his duties were in obstetrics and gynaecology. here he soon developed a reputation. the one story that stuck in my mind was as follows:- he diagnosed a ruptured ectopic pregnancy, correctly i might add. he booked the patient for theater. the patient went to theater. the patient lay in theater waiting for her doctor. the doctor went to visit an old friend who was in town. the doctor only returned to do the operation 5 hours later. if this is not gross negligence, then the definition of gross negligence has recently changed (possible i suppose. what would i know?)
after multiple such stories, the head of obs and gynae had had enough. he told the doctor that he was no longer welcome in his department. and this is where my story actually begins.

the doctor in question was a member of nehawu (national health and allied workers union). he approached his union, complaining of unfair dismissal. the union immediately organised industrial action on the hospital grounds. this comprises people taking time off work to toyi-toyi with placards basically stating that the head of obs and gynae is an evil man and should resign etc. the poor head, unaware of this drama innocently strolled from his office to the wards that day, right through the strike. imagine his surprise when he saw his own name, probably poorly spelled on their banners. imagine his shock when he was physically accosted and manhandled by this angry mob, because that is exactly what happened. he was physically driven off the grounds by these swept up nehawu members (mostly cleaners with a few nurses and one or two sisters). when the superintendent was told by one of the astounded doctors watching this pantomime to phone the police, he replied that only the ceo of the hospital has the authority to do that and therefore refused (from a previous blog, you may recall that our ceo was also basically chased from the premises recently, but through more official channels. the point is we do not have a ceo. he was therefore saying that only a person who does not exist could call the police) the head of o et g, knowing what is good for his personal health, left. i do not think any other course of action would have been prudent.

through the waves of amazement and disgust that swept over me, i had one or two thoughts. firstly, without sounding too classist, i find it bizarre that mere cleaners etc should have such power to essentially make policy decisions at our hospital and to be arrogant enough to accost a specialist (usually i have nothing good to say about the gynaes but this was just beyond ridiculous). secondly if this is about power to the people, who will suffer most now that we no longer have a specialist gynae in the hospital. i can't help secretly hoping one of the mob's family members will come into the hospital with the usual vaginal bleeding, only to be told that the quack i initially referred to would be handling the case (or rather not handling it which is more likely from him). thirdly i made a mental note that if my juniors are grossly negligent, i would have to be very careful how i handle the matter.

i am out if time, unfortunately, so i'll have to leave this matter hanging for now.


Sid Schwab said...

Hello. I finally discovered your comment on my blog -- for some frustrating reason I rarely get notified of comments. I'm glad you found that post, and that you share its sentiments. Meanwhile, now I've found your blog, which is a refreshing point of view of surgery from the other side of the world. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

is it actually possible to corrupt the college of medicine of south africa which offers fellowships? I am a surgeon from the UK and spent around 6 months in KZN province and all the surgeons with FCS(SA) that i encountered were extremely able and professional in their approach....

Dr Guinevere said...

Anonymous, the surgeons are excellent in SA, yes, through their own toil and strife. The college certainly does not set such high standards for itself. I know of a case where a group of final year surgery registrars arrived for their final exams before qualifying as surgeons only to find that the college had 'forgotten' to set their exam.