‘Med­i­cal Mafia’ in con­trol of health

To pub­lic sec­tor doc­tors

Weekend Witness - - News - NIYANTA SINGH

A NASTY feud be­tween doc­tors in pri­vate prac­tice and pub­lic ser­vice has re­vealed a “med­i­cal mafia” that stops at noth­ing to en­sure pri­vate doc­tors re­tain the lion’s share of pa­tients.

Al­le­ga­tions of ha­rass­ment, in­tim­i­da­tion, and threats have sur­faced from sev­eral pub­lic ser­vice doc­tors in both Pi­eter­mar­itzburg and Dur­ban, who did not want their names re­vealed for pro­fes­sional rea­sons.

The pub­lic ser­vice doc­tors who are too scared to pro­ceed with le­gal or crim­i­nal cases against their pri­vate counter­parts, for fear of tar­nish­ing their rep­u­ta­tion, sim­ply turn a blind eye now and have re­solved to stay in pub­lic ser­vice.

Pub­lic ser­vice doc­tors, who have con­stantly been on the radar for falsely moon­light­ing, this week spoke on how they were tar­geted by pri­vate sec­tor doc­tors who feared them en­ter­ing the pri­vate sec­tor and poach­ing their pa­tients.

Sev­eral pub­lic sec­tor doc­tors re­vealed how they were threat­ened over the years when they made it known they were con­tem­plat­ing join­ing the pri­vate sec­tor. Two of the doc­tors had to even­tu­ally seek le­gal re­course against the threats re­ceived and had to shelve their plans to join the pri­vate sec­tor. They even­tu­ally ditched their le­gal re­course be­cause of the pub­lic­ity at­tached to it.

“Pri­vate doc­tors are ex­tremely threat­ened by pub­lic sec­tor doc­tors join­ing their fra­ter­nity. We are seen as a threat to their in­come and they keep their cir­cles small and tight. Out­siders are not al­lowed to en­ter and if you try, your life will be made a mis­ery,” said the one specialist sur­geon who works at a pub­lic hospi­tal.

He said a year ago he de­cided to leave the pub­lic sec­tor to open a pri­vate prac­tice and that was the worst mis­take of his life. “My life re­ally be­came hell af­ter that. I had called a few friends in pri­vate prac­tice to ask them about the mar­ket and then told them I was con­sid­er­ing go­ing into pri­vate prac­tice and that was where it all be­gan,” he said.

He said soon there­after he be­gan get­ting threat­en­ing phone calls from anony­mous people telling him to re­think his de­ci­sion to move into the pri­vate prac­tice.

“It didn’t stop there. At con­fer­ences and work func­tions, these doc­tors would sin­gle us out, em­bar­rass us, con­front us and use bul­ly­ing tac­tics. The worst was when they would de­grade us pub­licly say­ing things like we are only good enough to work with pub­lic pa­ tients be­cause we did not have their ex­per­tise; that pub­lic pa­tients did not de­serve to have bet­ter doc­tors work­ing on them,” said the one doc­tor.

An­other doc­tor said his ha­rass­ment went a lit­tle fur­ther when threats to his per­sonal safety were made.

“I had gone as far as set­ting up my pri­vate of­fices and re­sign­ing from the govern­ment. It was a mat­ter of days be­fore I went out on my own pri­vate prac­tice and then the per­sonal threats to my fam­ily and my­self started.

“My wife be­gan re­ceiv­ing tele­phone calls say­ing that I should be very afraid be­cause I was in dan­ger­ous ter­ri­tory that I knew noth­ing about,” said the specialist doc­tor. But it did not stop there. “My pri­vate rooms were de­faced by some­one who scratched the door with a sharp in­stru­ment. A let­ter was slipped un­der the door say­ing ‘Go back to where you be­long, we don’t want you here’,” said the doc­tor.

He said he even­tu­ally weighed his op­tions and de­cided to stay in pub­lic ser­vice.

“It’s a cut­throat in­dus­try de­spite the fact that there are enough pa­tients for ev­ery­one,” said the doc­tor

He said the sit­u­a­tion was also ex­ac­er­bated if a new doc­tor on the scene charged in ac­cor­dance to med­i­cal aid rates.

“Some of us have a real pas­sion to save lives and see people in bet­ter health and it is not al­ways about the money. There­fore, if we charged in ac­cor­dance to med­i­cal aid rates, we were threat­ened.

“If you take a lowly­paid govern­ment em­ployee who has med­i­cal aid, he will never be able to use his med­i­cal aid at most pri­vate doc­tors be­cause their rates are at least two or three times higher than med­i­cal aid.

“That is the con­trol they have in the in­dus­try,” said an­other doc­tor.

Pri­vate doc­tors ap­proached by Weekend Wit­ness shied away from the topic, say­ing they had some idea of the “med­i­cal mafia”.

“It’s not a bla­tant thing but we have heard of such in­ci­dents, es­pe­cially in small towns, where the med­i­cal ex­per­tise pool is small.

“It’s ev­ery­one want­ing to have their bread but­tered best,” said the Dur­ban pri­vate doc­tor.

A Pi­eter­mar­itzburg doc­tor in pri­vate prac­tice said he had also heard of the on­go­ing ten­sion be­tween the two sec­tors.

“Why this is so, I do not know be­cause there are more than enough pa­tients for ev­ery­one to treat,” she said. In an ar­ti­cle, Lib­erty's park­ing mess in yes­ter­day’s Wit­ness, it has been brought to our at­ten­tion that park­ing for pen­sion­ers is only free on a Wed­nes­day, on pre­sen­ta­tion of iden­tity books to the park­ing counter.

Cen­tre Man­ager Umi Khan pointed out there is no other free park­ing for pen­sion­ers.

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