Illegal Cuban doctor scandal: Weekend Post

Psychiatrist found to be ‘incompetent’ allowed to treat patients because Eastern Cape Health Department ‘does not take orders from secretaries’

A CUBAN doctor whose medical licence was withdrawn by the Health Professions Council after she was found to be “incompetent” was allowed to treat patients in Nelson Mandela Bay for at least another two weeks. While finally stopping her from treating patients this week, the provincial Health Department has indicated that despite the fact that she cannot work, they are not taking immediate steps to remove her from her post.

Last month, specialist psychiatrist Dr Gaby Mendez-Gonzalez was declared incompetent by the council (HPCSA) after an assessment carried out in September last year.

This followed a two-year investigation by the HPCSA into the competency of Mendez-Gonzalez – who practised as a psychiatrist at Dora Nginza Hospital – after questions over her ability to care for patients were raised by doctors.

Hospital sources said due to concerns over the way she was treating young patients, she was moved from the department of psychiatry, banned from the department of paediatrics, and ended up working at the department of family medicine.

Following recommendations from the subcommittee for postgraduate education and training (medical) and the education and registration committee, the board of the HPCSA decided to have Mendez-Gonzalez erased from the register of medical practitioners with immediate effect.

A letter informing hospital management about the decision was dated July 28.

Hospital sources, however, said management was instructed by the Eastern Cape Health Department not to act on the letter.

Department spokesman Sizwe Kupelo said this week that this was because they had “technical issues” with the letter that was signed by the HPCSA’s general manager, Madimetja Lamola.

“It was signed by a secretary and we don’t take orders from secretaries,” Kupelo said.

The department believed the correct protocol would be for the letter to be signed by the chief executive of the HPCSA, Dr Buyiswa Mjamba Matshoba.

Other sources, however, claimed that the head of hospital services management for the Health Department, Dr Litha Matiwane, said it would cause “diplomatic problems” with Cuba. Kupelo denied this. Meanwhile, the South African Society of Psychiatrists also withdrew Mendez-Gonzalez’s membership at the end of last month.

Kupelo admitted earlier this week that Mendez-Gonzalez’s was working “under supervision” at Dora Nginza Hospital’s casualty department.

But he then said on Wednesday – after receiving a call from Weekend Post – that she had been stopped from seeing patients.

He said that no decision had been taken about Mendez-Gonzalez’s future at the hospital and she would be allowed to come to the hospital and sit in her office.

“The department has liaised with the Health Professions Council SA seeking [clarity on] technical issues with regard to the doctor concerned. Matiwane did not raise diplomatic fears, but technicalities which are valid in our view.

“The HPCSA has yet officially to communicate their decision to the accounting officer of the department. We are aware that such communication has been sent to the CEO of the hospital but [in our view] it is not signed by [the correct] authorities.”

Kupelo said that Mendez-Gonzalez had also been stopped from performing any other clinical work.

“We want to reassure members of the public that the department acts in their best interest. Even in this instance, no doctor would be allowed to practise without a licence, but such a decision has to be implemented in line with policy and law,” Kupelo said.

“If a doctor does not have a licence, he or she cannot be allowed to practise and diplomatic relations have no bearing on it.

“The position as of [Wednesday] following discussion with superintendent-general Dr Tobile Mbengashe, [was that] MendezGonzalez was instructed to stop seeing patients altogether,” Kupelo said.

Spokesman for the Eastern Cape Health Crisis Action Coalition Fikile Boyce said if there were patients who were negatively impacted on by the Health Department’s refusal to stop Mendez-Gonzalez from working, they would assist them in bringing legal action against the state.

“The Department of Health has a duty to work diligently with public funds. Allowing a doctor who is no longer competent to work is not responsible,” he said.

Mendez-Gonzalez said she was in the process of seeking legal advice about the revocation of her medical licence and had no further comment.

The Democratic Alliance’s shadow MEC for health in the province, Celeste Barker, said the party condemned the inconsistent management by the Health Department that had enabled Mendez-Gonzalez to continue working at the hospital after being struck off the roll.

“Irresponsible management kept a barred doctor working with very vulnerable state patients. Patients’ lives have been risked and the credibility and image of the Department of Health, this province and our country has been unnecessarily undermined,” Barker said.

“We therefore invite the Department of Health to take a study tour to the provincial hospitals of the Western Cape where management adheres to the law.”

The HPCSA did not respond to requests for comment. — Estelle Ellis