DOCTORS have threatened to shut down public hospital services in Port Elizabeth in support of their colleagues – three rebel doctors who have been threatened with disciplinary action for speaking out about the dire staff shortage at the medical facilities.
Cardiologist Basil Brown, surgeon Sats Pillay and paediatric surgeon Lungile Pepeta received letters last week asking them for reasons why they should not be charged with misconduct.
Now, 20 heads of different departments in the Port Elizabeth Hospital Complex and junior doctors have threatened a mass walkout if action is taken against the three.
"If they are suspended or fired, we will all walk,” a doctor, who did not want to be named, said.
Meanwhile, support for the doctors’ decision to speak out about the staff crisis at the complex is mounting, with many professional bodies calling on the provincial Health Department to back down on its threats of disciplinary action against the three specialists.
Both department spokesmen, Sizwe Kupelo and Siyanda Manana, declined to comment yesterday on developments in the disciplinary action against the doctors.
The doctors were given 48 hours by the department last week to motivate why disciplinary action should not be taken against them.
Kupelo, however, said they would not be suspended pending possible departmental action.
SA Medical Association (Sama) acting chairman Dr Mark Sonderup backed the doctors’ actions.
He said Sama would "ardently” oppose the department’s attempts to discipline them.
"Appreciating the desperate situation they find themselves in, we fully support our members’ actions,” he said.
Sonderup said the department needed to remember doctors had a moral and ethical duty to point out deficiencies that could cause harm to patients.
"This is not a political issue but an ethical one.”
He said the doctors had not gone "rogue” to embarrass the department but had been left with no choice.
"Their actions followed very exhaustive processes and attempts at numerous levels to try and resolve the core issues within the department,” he said.
"They were at the end of their tether and it is well documented ...
"We support them and believe it was correct the doctors spoke out. It was their ethical responsibility.”
SA Heart, the professional body for cardiologists in South Africa, said it was deeply concerned about developments at the hospital complex.
"The medical community in South Africa, especially the cardiac practitioners working in the public sector, are under enormous pressure to render a service in extremely difficult circumstances with staff, equipment and financial constraints,” it said.
"In the public sector there is approximately one qualified cardiologist serving an estimated two million people, with about 40% of all medical admissions having a cardiac component.
"It goes without saying that this has led to incredible stress on the part of these cardiac health workers in the public sector – it is important that this is recognised.
"It is disappointing, too, that the department does not value the dedication of professionals to serve the public.
"The actions of the authorities are counterproductive and should rather focus on solving the problems than wasting time on disputes.”
The SA Society of Psychiatrists in the Eastern Cape said: "A crisis of this magnitude could have been averted through better budget, infrastructure and human resource planning [by the department].
"Lack of decisive, effective solutions to these issues have far-reaching consequences that will be difficult for the Eastern Cape government to reverse.”