Blood­ied nose for health

The Citizen (KZN) - - Opinion - Wil­liam Saunderson-Meyer Jaundiced Eye

Avin­dic­tive, pro­tracted and costly cam­paign against three young doc­tors for “un­law­fully re­mov­ing two blue chairs with the in­tent to per­ma­nently deprive Tygerberg Hospi­tal of its pos­ses­sions” is fi­nally over.

And it ends in a de­servedly hu­mil­i­at­ing de­feat for the over-zeal­ous bu­reau­crats of Western Cape Health (WCH).

Af­ter an ap­peal to the sec­toral bar­gain­ing coun­cil, the depart­ment’s heavy-handed dis­ci­plinary sanc­tions were ruled “sub­stan­tively un­fair”. The coun­cil also or­dered the ex­punge­ment of the theft find­ing from the records.

The storm in a teacup, which nev­er­the­less spot­lights fail­ings in WCH’s at­ti­tude to its pro­fes­sional staff, as well as a cava­lier ap­proach to ad­min­is­tra­tive trans­parency, has con­tin­ued for over a year.

The depart­ment had fired Dr Mathew de Swardt and suspended Dr Kim Mor­gan and Dr Ab­dur­rag­maan Domingo in the fi­nal year of spe­cial­i­sa­tion, af­ter they “stole” two bro­ken chairs. The chairs had been dumped on an out­door heap of fur­nish­ings and rub­ble.

The doc­tors wanted to fix the chairs for the staff tea room they were ren­o­vat­ing. As De Swardt ex­plained it with plain­tive naïveté: “I thought I was do­ing some­thing nice.”

When it was made clear that they had not fol­lowed hospi­tal pro­to­cols, the trio im­me­di­ately re­turned the chairs, but, to their con­ster­na­tion, months later the hospi­tal bosses laid charges of theft.

Mor­gan was hauled out of surgery when cops ar­rived to ar­rest them. But the po­lice left when it was pointed out that the chairs had never been stolen and were, in any case, back on the rain-soaked rub­bish pile.

Thwarted at jail­ing the des­per­ado dec­o­ra­tors, the bu­reau­crats upped their pet­ti­ness and poi­son. A full eight months af­ter the heist­that-never-was, a dis­ci­plinary in­quiry headed by a trans­par­ently pli­ant out­side con­sul­tant, Shameem Mo­dack-Robert­son, found the three guilty of theft, with the sen­tence be­ing the fir­ing of the crim­i­nal mas­ter­mind, De Swardt, and sus­pen­sions with­out pay for his side­kicks.

At a stroke, De Swardt was out of work. The trio also faced the prospect of dis­ci­plin­ing by the Health Profession­s Coun­cil.

For­tu­nately, pub­lic re­ac­tion was im­me­di­ate. WCH was within hours cow­er­ing un­der a wave of crit­i­cism and dis­be­lief.

Within 48 hours, the Demo­cratic Al­liance’s (DA’s) pro­vin­cial health min­is­ter, Dr No­mafrench Mbombo, had re­versed the fir­ing/sus­pen­sions. In­stead, the trio would get fi­nal writ­ten warn­ings.

De Swardt and Mor­gan, rep­re­sented pro bono by Michael Ba­graim, who is also the DA’s shadow na­tional labour min­is­ter, now ap­proached the coun­cil to re­move the theft slur.

“Mor­gan felt she was un­fairly treated. The find­ings were grossly bi­ased and the sanc­tion ap­pears to have been pre­med­i­tated be­fore the dis­ci­plinary process took place,” the record reads.

But this was only a sin­gle in­ci­dent. So I was in­ter­ested to look for a pat­tern in other dis­ci­plinary ac­tions, cit­ing the Pub­lic Ac­cess of In­for­ma­tion Act (PAIA).

Months have come and gone. I write reg­u­larly to the me­dia re­la­tions per­son, No­mawethu Sbuk­wana, copy­ing her bosses, Marika Cham­pion, head of com­mu­ni­ca­tions and Dou­glas New­man-Valen­tine, the head of min­istry. I write also to Eu­gene Reynolds, the in­for­ma­tion of­fi­cer tasked with PAIAs. Noth­ing has hap­pened and noth­ing is go­ing to hap­pen.

A week ago, Mbombo an­nounced that she op­posed NHI be­cause it would make WCH “use­less and dys­func­tional” by tak­ing away the role of the depart­ment’s se­nior man­agers.

Nope, Dr M. Not pos­si­ble. They’re al­ready use­less and dys­func­tional.

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