AN INVESTIGATION into the theft of medicine from state-run depots and hospitals in the Eastern Cape has implicated more than 30 doctors, a Port Elizabeth hospital chief executive and provincial health officials.
The doctors, whose names, addresses and practice numbers are listed in a report from the Health Department, come from Port Elizabeth, Mthatha, Elliot, Barkly East, Ugie, Mount Frere, Qumbu and Mqanduli.
The doctors, many of them well- respected figures in the medical fraternity, have allegedly been buying stolen medicines worth millions of rand from corrupt officials for years.
One Port Elizabeth doctor allegedly stored medicine in his garage at home. The stolen drugs include chronic medication.
The report also implicates 12 government pharmacists in Queenstown, Engcobo, King William's Town, Peddie and Mthatha. Two others from Cecilia Makiwane Hospital in East London have been dismissed.
The chief executive of a Port Elizabeth hospital is also mentioned in the investigation report, while four Nelson Mandela Bay doctors with private practices are allegedly buying medicine from corrupt officials.
In Engcobo, a government pharmacist is allegedly selling medicine to two doctors working at the Barkly East Hospital.
It is alleged that medicine meant for the hospital is taken to the doctors' private practices, while some is stored at a farm in Barkly East.
Health spokesman Sizwe Kupelo said the department had started investigating medicine theft in 2009. He said the rampant theft had cost the department millions of rands.
"The information we gathered gave a list of respected members of the medical fraternity. It is very concerning to the department.
"When we received the information, we forwarded it to the police for further investigation," Kupelo said. "We, however, remain concerned that theft of medicines continues in both our depots and in transit.
"When this investigation is complete, we shall leave no stone unturned. We want the culprits to be brought to book."
Kupelo said the department was worried about the length of time it was taking for the police to act. A source close to the investigation said the police's crime intelligence unit had investigated the matter but no action had been taken.
"The investigation identified doctors all over the Eastern Cape who were involved in this," the source said. "It even identified two doctors in Barkly East who were full-time employees of the department of health but by 9am every day they would be at their private practice.
"Deliveries meant to go to the hospital they worked for bypassed the hospital and would be taken straight to the farm."
The source said a Port Elizabeth doctor was found to store medicine in his garage at home. "There was also a woman who sold medicine from her house. She was positively identified during the investigation.
"The most frustrating thing is the culprits were identified ... but no raids have been conducted."
The source said most of the stolen medicine came from the Mthatha depot. "An order would leave the Mthatha depot for a hospital in the area but the medicine would be delivered to a private surgery. A Nigeria national living in PE is also a recipient of this medicine and he [allegedly] uses it to manufacture drugs."
Dr Mark Sonderup of the SA Medical Association said: "If there is information of such nature, people need to face the full extent of the law. It can never be acceptable, but the information needs to be validated in a court of law."
Despite promising to respond to questions regarding the police investigation earlier yesterday, Hawks national spokesman Paul Ramoloko had not replied by last night.