Maverick Citizen

MESSENGER SILENCED

Dr Tim de Maayer, Rahima Moosa hospital whistle-blower, suspended

Paediatric gastroenterologist Dr Tim De Maayer, who wrote a widely praised open letter exposing the poor state of Gauteng hospitals, has been suspended. (Photo: Supplied)

Social media and WhatsApp networks of doctors expressed shock, dismay and anger at the news that doctor who exposed the shocking state of children's healthcare at the Rahima Moosa Mother and Child Hospital had been suspended.

Dr Tim de Maayer, the paediatric gastroenterologist who wrote an open letter to administrators at the Gauteng Department of Health, which was published by Daily Maverick on 22 May, has been placed on precautionary suspension with immediate effect, according to doctors at Rahima Moosa Mother and Child Hospital in Johannesburg.

However, on Thursday night, as outrage grew, Premier David Makhura intervened, telling Maverick Citizen: “I’m waiting for the report from the MEC on this matter. I will never approve any act of intimidation or victimisation of professionals and workers who speak out where things are going wrong. We need more such people in the public service.” 

He added later: “The head of department is intervening on the matter. [The] CEO took the decision.” 

 

Read De Maayer’s full letter here.  

The letter raised huge public concern about the state of Gauteng hospitals as well as strong support from fellow doctors and the public for De Maayer’s willingness to speak out. Even the Presidency is believed to have asked the Gauteng Department of Health (GDoH) and the hospital for an explanation.  

When we published the letter, we explained in an accompanying editorial note: 

“This article is a cry from the heart.

“It arises from moral injury occasioned by silence, from a doctor’s Hippocratic oath and after years of unsuccessful efforts by healthcare workers at Rahima Moosa Mother and Child Hospital to have the problems it describes attended to.

“Knowing the risk of victimisation for speaking out, careful consideration and discussion with peers accompanied the decision to publish.

“The best response of the Gauteng Department of Health and the hospital CEO to the article would be to admit and urgently fix the problems it raises, not shoot the messenger.”

It seems the GDoH chose to shoot the messenger. 

How the night unfolded 

Doctors who work in the paediatric section of the hospital say they first learnt of De Maayer’s suspension when he wrote to them on Thursday night informing them that he would not be able to perform his clinical duties today (Friday) and for the foreseeable future, but not giving any reason why.  

However, an 8pm letter sent by an anxious doctor to Daily Maverick’s editor-in-chief, Branko Brkic, stated: “We found out this evening [Thursday] that he has been suspended by the CEO. As the only paediatric gastroenterologist, with phenomenal patient care, it will be the patients that suffer. Please contact me if there is anything we can do or write to make this public knowledge. The suspension is an unacceptable response to the unveiling of the truth regarding the unacceptable conditions we work with daily. We ask for your help.”  

de maayer suspended
Dr Tim De Maayer is a paediatric gastroenterologist at Rahima Moosa Mother and Child Hospital. (Poto: Supplied)

On Thursday night, De Maayer was unwilling to comment or confirm his suspension.  

In response to a request to confirm that he had been suspended and whether the MEC for Health, Dr Nomathemba Mokgethi, had known about it or authorised it, Kwara Kekana, the spokesperson for the Health MEC, said she would “check with the facility”.

In a statement released later in the evening, Kekana said the MEC had been made aware of the suspension. Mokgethi would engage the hospital management on the matter, said Kekana, adding that the department acknowledged the issues raised by Dr De Maayer.

The suspension comes as a surprise. Although the Gauteng Department of Health reacted defensively to De Maayer’s open letter, issuing a statement on 24 May denying that the situation at Rahima Moosa hospital was as bad as he depicted, they have not criticised him directly.  

Indeed, in a discussion this writer had with Premier David Makhura last week during the launch of Gauteng’s anti-corruption report, the premier said he had read De Maayer’s letter and had told officials the provincial government needed to address the issues he raised, rather than attack the messenger.  

Memorandum of Agreement

It is believed that the GDoH is at an advanced stage in negotiating a new Memorandum of Agreement with Wits University concerning their respective roles in the Gauteng health system. The previous one expired in 2015. De Maayer holds a joint post with Wits University and Gauteng health so his suspension is hardly the signal the cooperating partners would want to send. Indeed, at the time the open letter was published, both the dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences, Professor Shabir Madhi, and the vice-chancellor of Wits, Professor Zeblon Vilakazi, publicly stated their support for him.  

Last night Madhi was once again categorical in his support.  

As the night progressed, social media and WhatsApp networks of doctors expressed shock, dismay and anger at the news. On one of the networks, Professor Ebrahim Variava, who was suspended (and then reinstated) two years ago for speaking out, wrote:

“Welcome to the club. As clinicians and patient advocates, we have tried using all means within the Dept. Trying to highlight and suggest solutions to challenges faced. Yet, always failing due to poor planning led by incompetent leaders. 

“So after all efforts within the system and one fails, and in the public interest, brave clinicians should always highlight issues which adversely affect care — the weapon those responsible for poor services use seems to be cautionary suspension. 

“This creates fear amongst those working in the public sector — creating a conspiracy of silence!” 

A Withdraw the Suspension petition was launched at 8pm and attracted 1,500 signatures in the first hour. Some senior doctors are talking about organising protests on Friday.  

This is an ongoing story. DM/MC

 

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All Comments 23

  • The problem with this kind of desperation whistle blowing is that you just don’t know what corruption networks you disturb. I would apply the Law of Babita with all haste and earnest. Very sorry and sad situation.

  • It is the hospital CEO and the senior administrators in the DOH of Health who should be suspended. But as we all know, incompetence on their part is overlooked, as it is in every part of the public sector. This is not going to change anytime soon, sadly.

  • Please publish the name of the CEO. Surely he/she is known.
    Hopefully this person will be axed or is this wishful thinking. Another cader cemented in a position?

  • The incompetence and arrogance of this hospital administration are staggering! Are they truly this brainless? It boggles the mind.

    • We should start a petition – I cannot believe that this has happened after all that has been said and written about protecting whistle blowers, about calling those in charge to account. Nothing changes and it so damn depressing.

  • Another feather in the cap of the incompetent anc. Well done for confirming, in writing nogal, that the anc cadre deployees, the GDoH, has no intention of admitting their shortcomings and total lack of direction and leadership. “We are feeding at the trough. Leave us alone!”

  • The Premier, MEC and CEO should be suspended immediately. This case and the fact that a MoA that expired in 2015, seven years ago, is a clear indication of their incompetence. These people are leeches and useless parasites. It is totally DISGUSTING.

    • In the world of NHI you will get your medicine seven years after you die. The DoH will report it to parliament as a port-mortem benefit.

  • The much needed National Health must never be placed in the hands of government, any where any time, especially in Africa and specifically in SA.

  • During the ‘denial’ Mbeki/ANC days of the HIV/AIDS pandemic Dr Thys von Mollendorff, superintendent for at Rob Ferreira Hospital in Nelspruit was fired for ‘allowing!’ the use of anti-retroviral drugs in that hospital.

  • Despicable! The horrible gang shows its face once again. Well done to Dr de Maayer! Let the truth be known!
    I suppose the next doctor to leave SA… Sinko de Maayer (I had to say it)

  • Unbelievable!! Now is the time for all medical professionals in this country to stand together and protest against this kind of intimidation.
    As a retired publc health doctor, I would, without a doubt, join petitions and protests.

  • The way things have developed, it’s a travesty to call it the Department of Health. The question that needs to be put to the CEO, is, “So, how is this helping anyone other than those who are guilty of causing and allowing the situation to exist – are y0u actually interested in health as the key purpose of your pay packet?”

  • I went to Court for a very senior and experienced orthopaedic surgeon against the Health Professionals Council of South Africa who messed him around so unbelievably that the outraged Judge ordered punitive costs against the HPCSA, including costs against officials in their personal capacity. They are a complete and utter joke. Everything the ANC government touches in the State health care system is a complete disaster. The ANC could not care less about the health needs of the most vulnerable people in South Africa. PPE scandals, children in State hospitals dying, mentally challenged people being released from care to die, the list goes on and on and on. The ANC is a vile and disgusting criminal organisation that must cease to exist.

  • Its reported and was raised in parliament by FF Plus children that 100 black children are starving to death a month in SA and eating sand, yet no action, no shame, no comment from this caring ANC government yet they send R50m food to Cuban. I guess another black child dying make no differance.

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