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Court dismisses Limpopo MEC for Health’s attempt to quash inquiry into her ‘killing my health system’ remark

Court dismisses Limpopo MEC for Health’s attempt to quash inquiry into her ‘killing my health system’ remark
Limpopo health MEC Phophi Ramathuba. (Photo: Flickr)

‘The holding of political office and remaining registered as a medical practitioner are not mutually exclusive’, says judge.

Limpopo MEC for Health Dr Phophi Ramathuba has failed in her attempt to put a stop to a Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) inquiry into comments she made to a Zimbabwean patient when she visited Bela Bela Hospital last year.

A disciplinary inquiry had been set down for July to probe complaints against her emanating from the conversation which was widely broadcast.

While Pretoria high court Judge Anthony Millar, in his judgment refusing to grant Ramathuba an interdict, did not detail the complaints, it is public record that she told the patient that Zimbabweans were putting a huge strain on the provincial health system.

She said: “You are killing my health system. It’s unfair.”

Ramathuba brought the application in her capacity as the MEC for health, in two parts, divided into Part A and Part B.

Part A was for an interdict pending Part B — a review application in which she would seek an order declaring the decision of the HPCSA issued against her on 9 February 2023 as unconstitutional, unlawful and invalid, and declaring that the HPCSA lacks jurisdiction over the conduct of the applicant as an MEC.

Only Part A was considered by Judge Millar this week and he ruled on Friday.

In his judgment, he said many complaints had been laid against Ramathuba with the HPCSA as a result of the conversation.

Ramathuba disputed the complaints, both in her capacity as the MEC for Health and as a medical practitioner.

“It is not in issue that the applicant has at all material times been registered as a health professional and remains so and the HPCSA is the custodian of the medical profession,” Judge Millar wrote.

The judge explained that the HPCSA has a two-stage complaints procedure. The first is a preliminary inquiry, which may result in the complaint being resolved. If it is not, it is referred to a formal inquiry.

Judge Millar said a preliminary committee had considered the complaints at a meeting at the end of January. The committee had resolved that the applicant was guilty of unprofessional conduct but that it was only a “minor transgression” and that she should be cautioned for unprofessional behaviour, unbecoming of a medical professional for “shouting at a patient’s bedside as the patient was vulnerable at the time”.

The HPCSA, in a letter to Ramathuba, said the acceptance of this penalty would not constitute a conviction and would not be reflected against her name. The matter would be regarded as finalised.

But Ramathuba refused to accept the finding. She wrote to the HPCSA in February this year, challenging it on the basis that it had no jurisdiction over her.

The HPCSA disagreed with this, and set the formal hearing dates.

“The applicant does not want the inquiry to proceed or to attend it … she says she conducted the conversation in her capacity as an MEC and not as a medical practitioner,” Judge Millar said.

“The crisp question is, is the applicant in her capacity as MEC a separate persona from the applicant as a medical practitioner. The office of the MEC is a political one whereas her status as a medical practitioner is a professional one.

“The holding of political office and remaining registered as a medical practitioner are not mutually exclusive. The one hallmark of both is that the individual concerned accepts that they are, and subject themselves to being accountable for their actions.

“It seems to me to be a wholly contrived and self-serving assertion that conduct is determined depending upon ‘which hat a person is wearing at the time’,” the judge said.

“This is simply not consistent with our constitutional values or the law. There is to my mind no distinction to be drawn between the different offices a person holds and their conduct.”

He said Ramathuba had maintained her registration with the HPCSA so she had no right to avoid its jurisdiction. If she had de-registered then the situation would be different.

“Her refusal to accept the finding of the preliminary committee means that the entire matter will serve before a different committee … she will have the opportunity to raise whatever challenge she wishes at the inquiry.

“Delaying the matter unnecessarily ending a review does not serve the interests of any of the parties.”

Judge Millar dismissed the application and ordered Ramathuba to pay the HPCSA’s costs. DM

First published by GroundUp.


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Zamfoot 1 1 says:

    No Dr R.. you “the ANC” killed the health system ………
    The education system
    And and and

    • Pierre Rossouw says:

      SA Post Office.
      But mot important are health and education. Ans Security. We all pay for what should be provided by the STATE as essential human rights services.

  • Sydney Kaye says:

    She seemed very articulate and efficient. Obviously if she was battling with lack of resources having Zims coming over the border just for non emergency treatment is not helpful. The HPCSA ( another proxy ANC) will discipline her for speaking the truth but are not worried about the squalor and theft that goes on in the other hospitals. . Good luck to her in front of the cadres

    • rmrobinson says:

      If she is so efficient, why is her department such a mess?

    • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

      This is not a subjective discussion. If the Zimbabweans are legally entitled to receive treatment then she cannot make such comments in any capacity. If however they are not legally entitled to care then they should be sent home without her being required to comment at all. It is a straightforward question of South African law and its implementation.

      • Matsobane Monama says:

        Agree, she can’t separate herself as a Doc. and as a politician. Basson tried to do the same but failed. He said he acted in his capacity as a soldier but was dismissed. As a Doctor you are still responsible to give care to the injured enemy. It’s the Law and Oath. Finish n Klaar.

      • Gerrie Pretorius says:

        The understanding and implementation of SA law is definitely not something that the anc and their cadres pay any attention to. Remember – they ‘are the law’, or at least that’s what they believe.

  • Ludovici DIVES says:

    ”You are killing my health system” whenever was it HER’s in the first place ? This is one of the problems with the ANC and their deployees. The arrogance of it, you are a public servant lady.

  • Katharine Ambrose says:

    Her behaviour to a vulnerable patient was really tantamount to a threat. It isn’t compatible with the hippocratic oath to do no harm. Another politico unfit for purpose. She was no doubt health MEC by virtue of being a doctor.

  • Barrie Lewis says:

    Whilst this poses an interesting legal question, what still remains unresolved is that in a wealthy state, treating vulnerable foreigners for no charge is a charitable thing to do. But in SA it means withholding yet more funds earmarked for our own starving children, 50% of whom in rural villages are permanently stunted, mentally and/or physically.

    Actually the truth is that SA society doesn’t give fokol, that lovely new word, for either vulnerable people from neighbouring countries or our own children. Both lie very near the bottom of the priority list. Let them cake!

    SA has lost its soul; ubuntu died with Desmond Tutu.

    • Jane Crankshaw says:

      Oh yes Ubuntu died a while back….it’s South Africa’s biggest tragedy. Funny how it flourished under Apartheid and died the moment “one man one vote”. became the order of the day. It’s almost as if humans perform best under adversity. Perhaps it’s on the return journey in this circle of life but I suspect we are all on the “ survival of the fittest” stretch right now!

    • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

      Charity has nothing to do with this topic.

      Anything against the law should be frowned upon by society, always. The law is there for a reason and has taken many greater minds many years to evolve. You may not like a particular law, and if so then push for change via the appropriate methods – but until the changes, it is your duty as a citizen to abide by it – and certainly not to undermine it.

      I will repeat what I said in my comment above, which is : if the Zimbabweans are entitled to care under ZA law then they must get it. If not, they must not. Period.

  • Rick Astley says:

    It’s a metaphor for the ruling party’s national modus operandi when questioned or even found guilty; spend taxpayer’s money on legal defence rather than improving the province’s health system. It’s a ‘collective’ personality disorder.

  • Peter Oosthuizen says:

    Health system?
    What health system/

  • Iam Fedup says:

    Don’t know exactly what the HPCSA actually does, or why it exists, but it doesn’t seem to have any teeth to take action. Isn’t it time, however, that other professional bodies, such as those in the law profession, various engineering bodies, associations of various industries like pharmacists, psychologists, retailers, manufacturers, banking and financial services, even educational institutions, start expelling members who have violated ethical standards? By allowing such behaviours they are condoning them and are collaborators. “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men [and women] to stay silent.” – Hannah Ahrendt.

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