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By Marika Sboros
So, Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi has issued a damning report on the state of the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA), effectively heralding its death knell.
The ministerial task team investigating the HPCSA since March has found the body to be terminally ill. Among symptoms of a deep malaise: three top officials – the registrar, COO and head of legal services – are “unfit” to hold their position. In particular, the team says of the GM of legal services – who along with the registrar and COO refused to cooperate with its investigation – that he has overseen a “dysfunctional system of professional conduct enquiries which has prejudiced practitioners and the public”.
It says the council, a statutory body set up in 1997 to regulate a wide range of health professionals, including doctors, dentists and dietitians, is in a state of “multi-system organisational dysfunction”.
I’d call it multi-organ failure.
Among the litany of accusations: tender irregularities, unacceptably long delays in registration of health professionals, and failing to act against unethical health professionals.
The head of legal services did find the time, extensive resources and enthusiasm to act against one ethical health professional on behalf of dietitians belonging to the Association for Dietetics in South Africa (ADSA): Cape Town University emeritus professor Tim Noakes, a medical doctor as well as an internationally renowned, award-winning scientist.
I recently discovered that the council is pursuing not one but two serious charges against Noakes, both laid by ADSA dietitians; both that could appear frivolous in the extreme – if you know anything at all about compelling international scientific research on optimum nutrition, both paediatric and adult.
In the first case, former ADSA president Claire Strydom took Noakes to the HPCSA for a single tweet in 2014 giving his opinion that best foods for infant weaning are shown to be low-carb, high-fat foods – in other words, meat and veg. Oddly, ADSA now gives the same advice.
Another ADSA member, Catherine (Katie) Pereira, followed Strydom’s lead last year and complained to the council about a throwaway general comment Noakes made in Sunday newspaper about dieticians in townships not advising residents people not to eat junk food. Pereira, who I’m told lodged the complaint in her personal capacity, is now an ADSA executive member responsible for the public relations portfolio.
(ADSA initially told me Pereira’s complaint had been resolved. The council has told Noakes’s legal team a very different story – that it is pursing a charge of unprofessional conduct against him based on Pereira’s complaint – but that’s for another time. Watch this space.)
I’d say the incompetence and corruption that has been exposed in the council’s activities can only augur well for Noakes when the hearing on the first charge finally rolls around in Cape Town on November 23, 2015. More so, given the council’s incompetence and apparent bias in favour of certain parties that effectively bungled its first attempt to muzzle Noakes in June.
Perhaps if the council had focused attention and energy on genuine threats to patients’ and public health rather than plumbing the murky depths of not-so-hidden political agendas and what looks increasingly like personal vendettas and professional jealousies, it might not be so consumed by the life-threatening fires in the statutory house of horrors it currently inhabits.
Here’s a News24 report on the implications and likely consequences of the ministerial task team’s report:
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