On-line, 26 November 2002, 'Doctors protect their own regarding Aids'
A patient is tested without his consent and is found to be HIV-positive.
But his doctor does not tell him or counsel him, and he finds out his status through a laboratory invoice.
He complains to the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) which holds an inquiry.
reasons, it finds the doctor not guilty, even though the doctor pays R20 000
to the patient in an out-of-court settlement.
Another patient is tested for HIV without her consent. She is also HIV-positive, and the test results are sent to her employer, who dismisses her. She lays a complaint but dies before her complaint can be reviewed.
These are just two of the 28 complaints that have been lodged with the council since 1996 by the Aids Law Project (ALP) for its clients.
The inaction and long delays at the HPCSA have prompted the ALP to take the council to the public protector.
It is the second time the ALP has laid a complaint against the council. The first, in January 2001, resulted in a list of recommendations for the council to follow in order to alleviate the long delays.
the ALP says the council has done nothing to implement the recommendations,
despite numerous attempts by the ALP to assist.
The ALP's ChloŽ Hardy said the delays meant cases were looked at only after the patient had died. In those cases, the council stopped investigations.
Hardy said there were many cases still pending, while none of the finished ones had resulted in findings against the doctors.
"But in all the cases we have referred to the council, in our minds, the doctors have violated council guidelines. We don't refer a cases unless we believe this has occurred," Hardy said.
The latest complaint to the public protector calls for a re-opening of the investigation into the council's procedures for dealing with complaints against doctors.
"The council... tends to accept the doctor's explanation on face value, and does not provide detailed reasons why it has preferred the doctor's version over the complainants'.
"The council appears to have a very limited capacity to conduct investigations, and we are often forced to take over the investigation and provide them with even readily accessible documents such as court records," Hardy said.
At the time of going to press, the council said it could not comment.
Litany of medical abuse tells a story
April 1997: A patient is tested without consent or counselling - and without the test results being disclosed to him. The Health Professions Council of South Africa decides after one brief meeting not to take the case further. The case has been re-opened, but the doctor is now insolvent with no indemnity insurance.
July 14 1997: A doctor tests his domestic worker without consent and dismisses her. Two years pass before the council provides the doctor's version for the patient's comment. She is uncontactable and is believed to have died.
July 1998: A patient is tested for HIV at the request of an insurance company. The doctor informs the patient that he is HIV-positive, but he also allegedly tells the patient's landlord of his HIV status. The landlord discloses the information to other members of the community. The patient is forced to leave home and now lives in a shelter for homeless people.
November 1998: A patient is tested without consent or counselling and is fired. She dies a few months later and the council refuses to hear her case.
February 1999: A job applicant is refused employment after being given an HIV test without consent or counselling. The council finds the doctor not guilty, but the prospective employer pays R100 000 in a civil claim and admits the doctor had acted improperly.
November 19 1997: A patient is given an unregistered drug (Virodene) and dies. The council refuses to hear his case.