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Assistance for impaired professionals

Patient after patient, shift after shift, phones ringing endlessly. Work has never been more stressful than it is today – and the healthcare profession is on top of the list of those under the most pressure.

To mitigate the effects of these conditions by the healthcare practitioners, the Health Professions Act No. 56 of 1974 section 15(5)(F), has made provision for the establishment of a Health Committee.

The committee regulates/advises impaired practitioners suffering from mental or physical conditions or the abuse of or dependence on chemical substances, affecting the competence, attitude, judgement or performance of a student or a practitioner.

The committee was established to manage compliance of the practitioners while protecting the public. The committee is non-punitive, meaning that its advice is provided to assist and not to punish.

Functions of the Health Committee include the following:

  • To establish policies and procedures to enlist cooperation and support for the prevention and alleviation of circumstances which may lead to impairment in students and practitioners;
  • To establish mechanisms and procedures for the early identification of impairment in students and practitioners;
  • To implement procedures for handling crisis situations which may threaten patient safety and care;
  • To undertake informal assessments of reports on alleged impaired students and practitioners, make findings with regard to impairment and, if required, impose conditions of registration or practice on such persons aimed at protection of patients and treatment of impaired persons;
  • To appoint investigation committees on an ad hoc basis to undertake formal investigations into reports on alleged impairment in the absence of voluntary cooperation of students or practitioners, and make findings with regard to impairment;
  • To consider applications by students or practitioners who were found to be impaired to have their conditions of registration or practice amended or to have such conditions revoked;
  • To oversee the implementation of treatment programmes of impaired students or practitioners and to review the position of each such student or practitioner at least every three years.

Processes of the Health Committee are as follows:

  1. Complaints are lodged with the Health Committee Secretariat, who report the matter to the Committee;
  2. An informal investigation in terms of Section 51 of the Health Professions Act is put in place;
  3. One specialist is appointed by the Committee to assess the practitioner, and the practitioner appoints a second specialist of his choice;
  4. The above-mentioned specialists are given reporting guidelines for the assessment;
  5. The practitioner is informed of the complaint and is requested to undergo an assessment by the appointed specialists;
  6. The assessment reports from the two appointed specialists are submitted to the Committee for consideration;
  7. Should the Committee determine that an impairment exists, the practitioner will be declared impaired. The impairment is then processed on the HPCSA administration system against the practitioner’s name;
  8. The practitioner is then required to work under supervision and to undergo treatment with the treating practitioner/institution approved by the Committee;
  9. Should the practitioner refuse to subject himself/herself to the informal investigation, the Committee will do a formal investigation in terms of Section 51 of the Health Professions Act;
  10. The practitioner will then be sent a notice to subject himself/herself to do the assessment within 30 days;
  11. Should the practitioner refuse to comply with the notice given, the practitioner’s name will be suspended from the Register of Healthcare Practitioners until such time that the practitioner is assessed by the two specialists and properly diagnosed;
  12. The Committee monitors and enforces compliance by practitioners. If impairment does not exist, the Committee dismisses the case and the practitioner is informed accordingly.

Rehabilitation and compliance of practitioners

The following guidelines should be followed during the rehabilitation process after a practitioner has been declared impaired:

  • Three monthly progress reports should be submitted to the Health Committee by the treating practitioner and the supervisor for a period of 12 months for consideration by the Committee;
  • If progress is observed and the practitioner is complying, the Health Committee requires six monthly reports from the treating practitioner and the supervisor for consideration during the second year;
  • If progress is observed and the practitioner is complying, the Health Committee requires an annual report from the treating practitioner and the supervisor for the third year;
  • An interview is conducted by the Health Committee and, depending on the progress made in achieving rehabilitation, the conditions of service imposed upon the practitioner may be lifted;
  • If the practitioner does not comply with conditions of service, his/her name is suspended from the Register until compliance is observed.

Currently, the Health Committee under its management has the following number of practitioners with impairments.

List of stress-related impairments suffered by health professionals – April 2015 to March 2016:

List of stress-related impairments suffered by health professionals

Last Updated on 9 Sep 2016 by HPCSA Corporate Affairs