SA has an epidemic of bogus doctors
Six alleged ‘quacks’ appear in courts across Cape Town after a series of raids across the metro
South Africa faces a national problem with “bogus doctors” according to Health Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, and the consequences can be fatal.
This week six alleged “quacks” appeared in courts across Cape Town after a series of raids across the metro last week.
Officers confiscated medical equipment from houses in mostly poor communities where it is alleged that the suspects did everything from checkups to surgeries.
These “doctors”, many of whom are from the Congo and claim to have medical expertise, do not have the required certificates to practise medicine in South Africa.
Investigators, who include members from the Hawks, Crime Intelligence, the police’s Forensic Science Laboratory and the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA), say the suspects could not have pulled off the fraud without the help of local doctors.
It is believed the suspects were employed by local doctors who have their own legal private practices and allegedly employed them to work in the poorest areas as their “satellite practices”.Motsoaledi said the scourge of “bogus doctors” is as “old as the mountains” in South Africa.
“The doctor who hired them – the HPCSA will have a bone to pick with that doctor,” the minister told Times Select.
“We also know that doctors who are registered sometimes hire interns who are registered, but an intern is not allowed to run a practice; we still hear stories of doctors making them locals,” he said.
A Hawks statement last week said 15 premises were raided in Bellville, Paarl, Embekweni, Khayelitsha and Philippi.
Professor Ames Dhai, director of the Steve Biko Centre for Bioethics at Wits University, said she suspected these “doctors” failed the HPCSA board exams.
“If these doctors are failing to get registration, one needs to ask what is that struggle, and in the main it’s because they’ve failed the board exam three times. Once you’ve failed that board exam that’s set by the health professions council, you’re excluded from the programme.”
She said the board exam was “just adequate” to see that a person could function as a final-year student.
“However, our final-year students have much higher standards. I’ve been involved in setting up the board exams, and I think if they can’t pass the board exams then there is a real problem,” she said.In South Africa, foreign nationals with medical experience first have to spend five years in the public health service after passing the board exam before they are allowed to practice privately. This excludes people from Commonwealth countries.
Motsoaledi said there was also the possibility that medical aid schemes were defrauded.
He recounted an experience he had when he still worked as a doctor in a rural hospital where an “old man from Germany” was brought in as a doctor and was summarily made the superintendent of the facility.
But it was only after a wily nurse refused to administer 20ml of intravenous cocaine penicillin to a patient as prescribed by the man on the first day that he arrived that they became suspicious of his qualifications.
“This man had prescribed cocaine penicillin intravenously, that man was going to die there and then if it was administered,” said Motsoaledi.
“The following day I went to the government and asked them to show me the qualification of this doctor and they said they had never seen it. Why? Because he’s from Europe and they didn’t believe anything could go wrong,” he said.
Dhai said South Africa had a very high standard of medicine compared to the rest of the world and that this criminal activity undermined the public trust in doctors.
“You are looking at the risk of harm, and you are also looking at vulnerability. Here you have the vulnerability of the poorest of the poor being exploited and that is unconscionable,” said Dhai.