Maverick Citizen


Whistleblower paediatrician’s suspension lifted after massive public outcry

Whistleblower paediatrician’s suspension lifted after massive public outcry
Dr Tim De Maayer did what brave health workers in this province have always done. Having done everything in his power to care for the desperately ill children at Rahima Moosa Mother and Child Hospital, he raised issues with management and, having seen no change, he went public. He pleads with administrators in the province to come and see doctors trying unsuccessfully to intubate children by cellphone light because of loadshedding or the neonate whose incubator went cold for the same reason. (Photo: Supplied)

On Thursday, 9 June, paediatric gastroenterologist Dr Tim de Maayer, who recently exposed the shocking state of children’s healthcare at the Rahima Moosa Mother and Child Hospital, was suspended for ‘serious misconduct’, which prompted a massive outpouring of public support for him. The Gauteng Department of Health has now announced that his suspension has been lifted, saying the matter was ‘resolved amicably’.

The suspension of Dr Tim de Maayer, paediatric gastroenterologist at Rahima Moosa Mother and Child Hospital in Johannesburg, on Thursday evening triggered a wave of condemnation from civil society, the medical fraternity and the general public. 

Coming just three weeks after he wrote an open letter to the Gauteng Department of Health detailing the devastating consequences a failing public health system was having on young patients, his suspension was seen by many as a punishment for speaking out.

The letter of suspension, signed by CEO of Rahima Moosa Dr Nozuko Mkabayi, stated De Maayer was facing allegations of “very serious misconduct”.

“The decision of this suspension… comes as a consequence of your unbecoming conduct, in that on or about the 21st May 2022, you took to the media or have given an interview to the Daily Maverick without knowledge, permission and authorisation from the Management of the Hospital or the Gauteng Department of Health.”

However, less than 24 hours after De Maayer’s suspension became public knowledge, the Gauteng Department of Health released a statement saying that MEC for Health Dr Nomathemba Mokgethi intervened in the situation. De Maayer’s suspension has been lifted, with the department providing its assurance that the management team at Rahima Moosa will continue to work together to address the issues raised in the open letter.

The suspension was lifted after a meeting between Mokgethi, Mkabayi, De Maayer and Professor Ashraf Coovadia, head of the department of paediatrics and child health at Rahima Moosa, on Friday.

Dr Tim De Maayer is a Paediatric Gastroenterologist at Rahima Moosa Mother and Child Hospital where he has been since 2009. Before that he worked in other public hospitals.
(Photo: Supplied)

“The MEC convened the meeting with all parties to engage on the matter regarding the precautionary suspension of Dr De Maayer,” according to the department. “The MEC wishes to inform the public that the meeting was fruitful, and the matter has been resolved amicably.”

Bongani Majola, chairperson of the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC), welcomed the decision by the hospital and the Department of Health to lift De Maayer’s suspension. 

The SAHRC released a statement on Friday expressing concern about the paediatrician’s suspension and the impact his absence would have on the wellbeing of his child patients.

“The commission has been concerned about the unintended consequences of the suspension on the right of innocent children to healthcare,” Majola told Maverick Citizen. “The intervention by MEC, Dr Mokgethi, accords with the spirit of upholding human rights and is commendable.”

Public backlash

The SAHRC was far from the only body to express disapproval at De Maayer’s suspension. The University of Witwatersrand, under which De Maayer is a joint appointee at Rahima Moosa, called for the “unconditional and immediate” lifting of his suspension on Friday.

“This is a ludicrous situation – instead of resolving the issues raised by the doctor at the coalface, the department has chosen to shoot the messenger,” said Professor Shabir Madhi, Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences at the university. 

Madhi had raised concern about De Maayer’s suspension on Thursday, tweeting: 

Remember this desperate call for help to save life’s of children. Upholding the Hippocratic Oath and living by a code of ethics sadly lacking in Gvt. In return Dr Tim de Maayer has been suspended by GDoH for speaking out for the benefit of the vulnerable.! @WitsHealthFac

— Shabir Madhi (@ShabirMadh) June 9, 2022

Speaking with Maverick Citizen later on Friday, Madhi said that the university has welcomed the subsequent lifting of the suspension.

“I think it was misguided in the first instance,” said Madhi. “What Gauteng Department of Health and the management of the hospital should have been addressing was the root cause of the reason why [De Maayer] went public when it comes to the facilities not being adequate in providing quality healthcare.”

While Madhi does not believe that going public should be the first course of action for healthcare workers, he explained that in De Maayer’s case, it was a method of last resort.

“The issues that he raised in the public domain were issues that were being raised with management and Gauteng Department of Health for more than a year, and there was absolutely no progress that was being made,” he said.

“In an event where there’s absolutely no movement taking place on the part of the authorities, then I think healthcare workers are morally obliged to make the public aware of the conditions that are transpiring in those facilities.”

Statements condemning De Maayer’s suspension were also issued by Section27, the Democratic Alliance, Saheti Alumni Association and the South African Medical Association (Sama).

An online petition calling for the withdrawal of the suspension, meanwhile, garnered more than 45,000 signatures in less than 24 hours.

Not enough

While the lifting of the suspension is welcome, it is not enough to undo the damage caused, said Dr Mvuyisi Mzukwa, chairperson of Sama, adding that suspending those who speak out intimidates other doctors struggling with poor service delivery and broken equipment.

“We are not privy to the discussions that went [on] behind closed doors, in terms of what was said to [Dr De Maayer], what were the conditions under which the suspension was lifted,” said Mzukwa. “Because what we cannot allow is the gagging of doctors when they hit the dead end in terms of resolving issues internally.”

Doctors have few options when it comes to raising concerns about service delivery, he continued, concerned as they are about the protection of their patients. 

Striking is not an option.

“The medical profession has realised that even though we might not be under the same umbrella, we’re faced with hostility from the authorities in the country and if we don’t speak up around these matters, we’re on our own,” said Mzukwa.

“The only way to do this is to support each other and speak with one voice and condemn… unbearable conditions in the hospitals or in the workplace. And… [we] just realised that if we don’t support this doctor, it is going to happen with [us] on the other side.” DM/MC



Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Prof Bill Richards - retired Richards says:

    Well done Daily Maverick!

  • Peter Doble says:

    The first rule of the controlled communist state – never question, never criticise. Conformity in failure and lack of knowledge keeps the people in harness.

  • Bruce Danckwerts says:

    This gets my vote for the Best News of 2022. Dr de Maayer you can stand tall in the knowledge that you represent what is best in humans. Bruce Danckwerts, CHOMA, Zambia

  • Auke Van Der Meulen Van Der Meulen says:

    Please name the CEO of the hospital so that the public can know. Hopefully he will get axed as he/she is obviously not doing his job. The only response is to kill the messengers and sit back and collect a salary.

  • Dennis Bailey says:

    What this saga shows is that it matters to the DOH, if not – sadly – the government in General, that public opinion matters. If only that were true of our politicians who played like truanting children in parliament this week. We congratulate Dr De Maayer’s principled stand while lamenting the quality of leadership to whom he must account.

  • Easy Does It says:

    Phew! Not surprisingly, it did take the ANC 27 years to learn that you cannot take your voters for granted. The ANC can no longer bulldoze their way because their voters remain loyal. It is becoming harder to convince voters that the ANC will deliver and so when a whistleblower exposes the rot, it is no more deny deny deny. Defend defend defend. This is also evident at a PRASA and Eskom. Stop protecting useless comrades in power.

  • Hermann Funk says:

    What are the consequences for the moron who initiated the suspension?

  • david clegg clegg says:

    It occurs to me that an appropriate follow-up to this debacle, would be the suspension of Dr Nozuko Mkabayi, the hospital CEO who issued the suspension order on Dr de Maayer. Knee-jerk cover-up/revenge actions like this must be vigorously discouraged. I know not whether Dr Mkabayi is an ANC deployee per se, but it seems likely (given the lack of attention to the problems at the hospital) that he did not achieve his position because of his administrative excellence, so a counter-suspension would send a useful message to others of his ilk.

  • Tony Reilly says:

    Time for Nozuko to go !

  • Leslie Stelfox says:

    The hospital administration should be suspended and investigated for ineptitude, negligence and possibly, corruption!

  • Ramesh Khooshal Lalla says:

    I absolutely agree with what the good doctor has done t ok expose the state of affairs in the hosiptal…there is not a department that is run by the government that is efficient, that shows it is a caring government …all of these poster in the department on service delivery are just that posters…with no visible demonstration of what the words mean…we need an outlet to air these issues after have exhausted all reasonable avenues internally…those that are paid by the taxpayers must deliver or face the boot.

  • Hilary Morris says:

    A possibly more appropriate action might have been to suggest to Dr Nozuko Mkabayi that she do something about trying to fix the hospital and get the whole of the Gauteng medical department into gear. These events (replicated country-wide) strike terror in the heart when we are faced with the prospect of NHI. Govt seems to work on the basis that it is preferable to bring the private sector down than to improve the public sector.

  • Libby De Villiers says:

    This whole saga is not surprising in the least. Medical services for the poor is generally in a terrible state.
    Yes, we all know there are wonderfully dedicated people out there doing their best, but the facilities are frightening. And there are those who do not do their best without any consequences.
    This is just another symptom of our poor, sick country and a government that has no idea of democracy, administration or service delivery.
    Fifteen years ago, I sat at a social event, where a member of the ANC said, for everybody to hear; “ f***k the poor, they must take care of themselves. We are entitled to taking the cream of the top”
    And they have, and they will. There are no morals or scruples, no values and very little intellectual prowess to guide this government to be successful in anything, even if the political will had been a factor.

  • William Stucke says:

    “The letter of suspension, signed by CEO of Rahima Moosa Dr Nozuko Mkabayi”

    Fire her! There is no excuse whatsoever for shooting the messenger. Why has she taken over a year, and done absolutely nothing to solve the problem?

  • Hermann Funk says:

    I wish and hope that the SAcan public has learnt how powerful it is. If the same outrage would have been expressed while Zuma headed government, he would not have lasted beyond his first term.

  • Rory Macnamara says:

    has the CEO of the hospital been suspended? he/she acting beyond his/her mandate. so sad when attack is the best form of defense which is so well practiced by these goofs that we call politicians and public servants when they are the ones with egg on their faces. Dr De Maayer did the right thing and it is about time everyone started complaining.

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