Cops, council crack down on sick-note scams

11 December 2016 - 02:00 By BONGANI MTHETHWA

Do you have a "severe headache" and fancy staying away from work? You can do so with a false sick note from a dodgy doctor for between R100 and R300, without even being diagnosed.

False sick notes are giving the Health Professions Council of South Africa a major headache and making the struggling economy bleed.

About 50 doctors are being investigated by the council for issuing allegedly bogus sick notes. An inspectorate, set up by the council, is looking into the fraud, which costs the country between R12-billion and R16-billion a year in lost productivity.

Gauteng, where 25 doctors are being investigated, is the worst province. The Western Cape has 19 cases, of which 80% are in Khayelitsha, and KwaZulu-Natal has three.

Two Congolese locum doctors will appear in a Port Elizabeth magistrate's court tomorrow. They were arrested in June by the Hawks, who also found a stash of sick notes.

The two had been employed by Dr Ebenezer "Benz" Ikuoyemwen Uduojie.

Uduojie employed unqualified foreign medical students who stood in for him and even saw patients. He allegedly set up a network of bogus practices throughout the Nelson Mandela Bay municipality.

Uduojie, 50, was on the verge of being arrested by the Hawks for allegedly employing fake doctors when he died on July 4.

He worked in the gynaecology and obstetrics department at Dora Nginza Hospital in Port Elizabeth.

The locum doctors he recruited at his string of practices were from the Democratic Republic of Congo and Nigeria.

While the Hawks were searching the two Congolese locum doctors' premises, they found sick notes, some of which belonged to a Port Elizabeth doctor, Bongani Nqini.

When Nqini was confronted by the Hawks, he told them that the practice details on the sick notes were his own, but that the handwriting was not . This suggested that the notes had been stolen and used illegally .

Other cases of medical malpractice being investigated by the council include:

• An allegedly bogus doctor in Pinetown, near Durban, who was selling sick notes;

• A medical practitioner's sick-note pad that was stolen. It was allegedly used to sell sick notes to people in Mzamba, on the KwaZulu-Natal and Eastern Cape border;

• A doctor in KwaZulu-Natal who allegedly sold sick notes for between R100 and R300 without examining patients.

Council spokeswoman Priscilla Sekhonyana said a Western Cape doctor, Rasheed Mahfouz, had been disbarred . He was arrested on suspicion of operating an illegal practice and was suspended after he was found to have conducted his business unethically.

Mahfouz was found guilty of practising outside the scope of the profession. It was found that he used another doctor's practice. Sick-note pads belonging to the doctor and bearing his signature were confiscated, as well as medical-aid claims.

"The [council] recently submitted to the investigating officer a new affidavit to support the investigation and assist in a speedy resolution of this matter," said Sekhonyana.

The council had received complaints about false sick notes being issued on a regular basis, she said.

"[The complaints are] mostly from employers who would like to find out if the sick notes are compliant with the ethical rules, or where the employer is suspicious that the sick note is fraudulent."

Fraudulent sick notes usually involve notes issued by one practitioner, but with various signatures.

They include people booked off from work for months without being referred to hospitals or specialists. In such cases, doctors would issue a sick note and backdate it, without it being based on any clinical evidence.

Sekhonyana said first-offender doctors found guilty of issuing false sick notes could be fined by the council up to R10000 for each fraudulent note. Thereafter, they would be criminally charged.

To deal with fraudulent sick notes, the council has established the inspectorate to enforce compliance and investigate the issuing of illegal sick notes by unregistered doctors.

The office would work with the police in dealing with incidents, provided these were reported in time, said Sekhonyana.

Last year, Occupational Care South Africa, which promotes ethical behaviour in healthcare, said South Africa's economy had lost between R12-billion and R16-billion through illness-related absenteeism.