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Mounting anger over paediatrician’s suspension for speaking out on working conditions

Wits and Section27 join public support for paediatric gastroenterologist Dr Tim de Maayer

10 June 2022 - 11:42 By TimesLIVE
Rahima Moosa Mother and Child Hospital recently experienced water shortages, which saw it rely on donated Jojo tanks and mobile toilets to service patients.
Rahima Moosa Mother and Child Hospital recently experienced water shortages, which saw it rely on donated Jojo tanks and mobile toilets to service patients.
Image: Thulani Mbele

Wits University is engaging with the Gauteng health department for the suspension of paediatric gastroenterologist Dr Tim de Maayer to be rescinded, joining calls by civil society for government not to “punish the messenger”.

A petition calling for Dr Tim de Maayer's suspension to be withdrawn has also garnered more than 23,500 signatures since the news broke a day ago, as at noon on Friday.

His suspension came after he blew the whistle on poor working conditions at Johannesburg’s Rahima Moosa Mother and Child Hospital last month. De Maayer is a joint appointee by the department and Wits.

“This is a ludicrous situation — instead of resolving the issues raised by the doctor at the coalface, the department has chosen to shoot the messenger,” said Prof Shabir Madhi, dean of the faculty of health sciences.

“It is not like our healthcare professionals have not raised these issues multiple times through the correct channels, but nothing has happened. How much louder can our doctors and clinicians on the ground speak?

“These actions are against the spirit of the agreement between Wits and the department with regard to the management of our joint staff.”

The university said it had been in contact with the department since the suspension was announced and was “optimistic that it will be rescinded”.

“Failing the lifting of the suspension, the university will plan for a public protest in support of Dr De Maayer.”

Health MEC Dr Nomathemba Mokgethi, confirming on Thursday evening she has been made aware of the precautionary suspension, said she would engage with the hospital management “and other parties concerned on the matter”.

The Progressive Health Forum, urging medical colleagues to demonstrate their support for him, also called for De Maayer’s suspension to be overturned. As the only paediatric gastroenterologist at Rahima Moosa Hospital, his units are now effectively shut, to the detriment of patients, the forum said.

Joining the outcry, Section27 said: “Dr De Maayer’s expertise [is] in short supply. But the department would rather have him at home than risk that he says again what everyone knows: Gauteng health is in crisis.

We cannot afford for health workers to be afraid to speak up
Section27

“Shooting the messenger is now standard practice in responding to whistle-blowers in health. Rather than taking tangible steps to respond to the desperate cries of dedicated professionals who have a unique insight into the system and its problems, the whistle-blowers (and as a result, their patients) are punished.

“Our health system is in crisis and relies heavily on the hardworking staff who go beyond the call of duty to serve patients. When they speak out, it is not for glory. Instead, it is a cry for help and action.

“Our health system, and the people it is meant to serve, need health worker activists who will advocate for their patients. We cannot afford for health workers to be afraid to speak up.”

Here is a snapshot of comments from the Change.org petition's signatories:

  • “It is absurd in every respect to chastise a clinician for highlighting the abhorrent realities (which are not a secret) in our ailing system. Instead of correcting the avalanche of deficiencies in the system they decide to accost such a cowardly move. Oh the shame.” — Sinabo Mnqonywa.
  • Daynia Ballot: “Whistle-blowers must be commended, not silenced.”
  • Ritshidze Mulaudzi: “Advocating for systemic change is core to what paediatricians do. I’ll stand up to injustices that harm children.”
  • “Patient advocacy is at the root of the practise of medicine. An absolutely outstanding person and professional. His care for patients and skill would make him popular and rich in private practice, yet he continues to serve the poor, expecting nothing in return.” — Masego Meyer.
  • “I can relate to what he says. He speaks the truth. Firing him does not solve the problem, it just removes a truly caring paediatrician from our broken system.” — Annemarie Olivier.
  • Mohammed Vahed: “Please do not divert from the issues to hide ineptitude. Doctors like this doctor sacrifice to make the public sector work and to serve the poorest of the poor. By suspending him, you are doing a disservice to your patients. That is how healthcare fails in SA.”

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