Independent 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.

Without giving 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.

Now 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