The South African Society of Anaesthesiologists (SASA) has condemned the warrant of arrest issued for one of their own, Dr Abdulhay Munshi, saying it is “a direct threat to healthcare delivery in South Africa”.
A warrant of arrest was issued earlier this week for Munshi as well as paediatric surgeon Dr Peter Beale after a 10-year-boy, Zayyaan Sayed, died after undergoing surgery.
They are being charged with culpable homicide.
In a statement released on Friday, SASA Chief Executive Natalie Zimmelman said as far as they were aware, a warrant of arrest has never been issued for a health profession in a criminal matter involving allegations of negligence or culpable homicide.
The warrant of arrest, she said, was “not in the best interests of either the public or the healthcare system. It will not result in delivering answers more quickly to the family of the child who died”.
Zimmelman said that while SASA sympathised with the Sayed family, as “any loss of life is tragic”, the facts of the case need to be determined.
“The family, public and the professions want to determine exactly how this tragedy occurred. To do so demands a transparent, exhaustive and fair investigation that will give us the facts and enable us to do everything possible to prevent something similar happening again.
“This process is mandated to be undertaken and conducted by regulatory hearings by the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA). As far as SASA is aware this process is well underway,” she said.
Zimmelman added that Munshi was already facing suspension from the hospital group and also “undergoing trial by media and in the court of partially informed public opinion”.
She added that warrant of arrest preempts “due, fair and transparent process”.
The implication of this on health practitioners, Zimmelman said, will be negative.
“For healthy people, the risk of death under anaesthetic is one in 250 000. Surgery and patient factors carry further risks, with different risks associated with different surgeries. In this context (and specifically for tragic outcomes where negligence is not a factor), doctors can’t be expected to practice with the constant threat of suspension and criminal sanction.”
She said the “vast majority” of professions are respected and are not flight risks, adding that caution should be exercised before a person is taken to court.
“Our courts have repeatedly warned officials of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and the South African Police Service that considerable circumspection should be taken before a person is arrested to bring him or her before a court.
“Where less intrusive measures are available to ensure the attendance of an accused person before a court, then such measures must be used rather than arrest. We do not believe that there is any particular reason why the attendance at court of most any medical specialist in South Africa in active practice should need to be secured by effecting an arrest,” she said.
The organisation has further called on Department of Justice, the NPA, the police and statutory bodies to ensure that a fair process is followed without punitive measures.
“We call on other healthcare professional associations; the legal profession and civil society at large to consider the impact of the precedent being set in this instance by facility groups and the State on the future of healthcare professional practice and the potential negative implications it may have for access to quality healthcare.”
– News24 Wire