FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
03 September 2018
SAMA FEEDBACK REGARDING THE REPORT ON PATIENT MISMANAGEMENT AND PATIENT RIGHTS VIOLATIONS AT THE TOWER PSYCHIATRIC HOSPITAL
SAMA has now had the opportunity to reflect on the report by the Office of Health Standards Compliance and its accompanying media statement, issued by the Health Ombud, in respect of the above. In this regard, the matter was fully discussed at the most recent meeting of its Human Rights Law and Ethics Committee.
SAMA is grateful to the Health Ombud to the extent that the report provides a comprehensive account of the systemic problems and poor-quality service delivery for Mental Health Care Users in the Easter Cape, in particular at the Tower Psychiatric Hospital. SAMA furthermore supports several of the recommendations contained in the report, including the recommendation regarding the appointment of an Administrator with respect to Mental Health Services in the Easter Cape Department of Health (ECDoH).
SAMA is, however, deeply troubled by the fact that the report, in SAMA’s considered view, places undue emphasis on the allegedly unethical conduct of the complainant, Dr Kiran Sukeri. Although SAMA agrees that it is unethical to release confidential patient information, including information relating to deceased patients, to the media without the necessary consent, SAMA is of the view that the allegedly unethical conduct on the part of the complainant in reporting the matter to the media is an ancillary issue. It should not have formed the focus of the Ombud’s report. Having regard to the fact that Dr Sukeri’s report, by the Ombud’s own admission, “was just the needed lightening rod and representative of a broader systemic and prolonged poor-quality service delivery for Mental Health Care Users (MCHUs) in the EC”, SAMA is furthermore of the view that the Ombud was unnecessarily critical of Dr Sukeri insofar as it relates to discrepancies in the patient death toll as initially reported by Dr Sukeri.
In its attempt to discredit and ostensibly to humiliate Dr Sukeri, the Health Ombud has done a disservice to both Dr Sukeri and the health care profession as a whole. Health care practitioners have an ethical duty to act as advocates for their patients, which encompasses the duty to expose injustice and human rights violations committed against patients. In this regard, SAMA calls into question the Ombud’s conclusion that the issues highlighted by Dr Sukeri primarily related to “chronic systemic failures and neglect of the ECDoH on Mental Health Care Services (MHCS) with pernicious systemic effects and the power struggles for change” as opposed to true human rights violations. Chronic system failures may very well lead to unacceptably poor patient care, which will result in the violation of patients’ human dignity and right of access to health care, thereby constituting a violation of patients’ human rights.
SAMA is furthermore troubled by the fact that the report of the Health Ombud, in its treatment of Dr Sukeri, has created a climate where other health care professionals may be dissuaded from coming forward in similar circumstances in the future. The pivotal role and importance of whistle blowers in a democratic society based in the values of human dignity, equality and freedom, cannot be overemphasised. It takes enormous courage to be a whistle blower and to stand up against injustices and human rights abuses. It is for this reason that the Protected Disclosures Act provides whistle blowers with wide protection, to which Dr Sukeri is also entitled.
SAMA extends its support to Dr Sukeri and all health care practitioners who raise their voices in good faith to protect the most vulnerable members in our society from abuse and neglect. SAMA confirms its commitment to achieving a climate where health care practitioners do not need to fear that their advocacy will be used against them.
Notes to Editors
The South African Medical Association was formally constituted on 21 May 1998 as a unification of a variety of doctors’ groups that had represented a diversity of interests. SAMA is a non-statutory, professional association for public, and private sector medical practitioners. SAMA is a voluntary membership association, existing to serve the best interests and needs of its members in any and all healthcare related matters.
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Last updated Monday, 3 September 2018 12:00