22 April 2008

South Africa: Doctor Suspended for Putting MEC's Photo in Dustbin

Dr Mark Blaylock, the chief medical officer of Manguzi Hospital, has been suspended for a month without pay for putting a picture of KwaZulu-Natal health MEC Peggy Nkonyeni into a dustbin.

Blaylock has apologized for his 'inappropriate action", but said in an affidavit he had been provoked by "unfair and slanderous" statements made by the MEC about rural doctors.

Nkonyeni had told a meeting at the northern KZN hospital in February that "we have a problem with doctors that work in rural areas. They do not care about people. It is all about profit" and that the antiretroviral drug AZT is "toxic".

At the time of the incident, Blaylock's colleague, Dr Colin Pfaff, was facing disciplinary action for raising money to get AZT to help prevent pregnant HIV positive mothers from passing HIV to their babies.

Blaylock was this week found guilty of misconduct, and informed in a letter that he would not be paid for a month to "teach him a lesson".

"The matter was subjected to an open disciplinary process where Dr Blaylock pleaded guilty but the department viewed the matter in the serious light as it shows disrespect to the government and the MEC in particular," said departmental spokesperson Chris Maxon.

"The Public Service Regulations are very clear on the conduct of public servants and it is our belief that any behaviour that is improper needs to be dealt with," added Maxon.

The department also initially pursued criminal charges against Blaylock for damage to state property, and the police were called to investigate but no charges were pressed as Nkonyeni's picture was not actually damaged.

Ironically, Blaylock will make more money working as a locum doctor in the private sector during this month's suspension than he does as a senior doctor at the rural hospital.

A hospital source who asked not to be named said that, ultimately patients would suffer most as the hospital was short-staffed and Blaylock's skilled would be greatly missed.

The department withdrew misconduct charges against Pfaff in the face of national protests, including a petition signed by over 1000 healthworkers nationally.

Pfaff's alleged misdeed was to raise donor funds to implement "dual therapy" (adding a second ARV to the nevirapine-only prevention of mother-to-child HIV transmission programme).

However, Nkonyeni made a point of attacking Pfaff and his colleagues as "opportunists" at the launch three weeks ago of dual therapy in the province.

"Without mincing words, I have to state that we do not take kindly to that kind of wanton behaviour because whatever side effects arise from such unmonitored initiatives come back to haunt us and increase the burden to both our personnel as well as our institutions who will as expected not even know what the patients are suffering or reacting from," Nkonyeni said.

Meanwhile, Nkonyeni herself is implicated in a Scorpions investigation. An affidavit submitted to court by the Scorpions alleges that the MEC and other senior members of the health department "unlawfully influenced decisions related to the procurement of goods and/or services".

However, the department's Maxon said the Scorpions affidavit should not be taken as fact as it was "untested in court".

"What has become sad is that the Scorpions are being used to settle certain scores and in turn the Scorpions use the media to trample on individual rights of citizens," added Maxon. - Health-e News Service.

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