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PBEC lodging of complaints

The Professional Board for Emergency Care (PBEC) is receiving an increasing amount of complaints regarding alleged unethical conduct of individuals registered with the PBEC. The Committee of Preliminary Inquiry for the PBEC is appointed to deal with complaints of this nature. Many of the complaints currently received do not fall within the mandate of the PBEC, or the HPCSA, and as such will not be investigated, and therefore, place an unnecessary burden on the HPCSA Legal department.

It is important for members of the Professional Board to understand their right to lodge a complaint should they encounter situations of alleged malpractice, unethical practice, patient negligence etc. It is equally important to acknowledge the fact that, as a member of the Profession, complaints may also be lodged against them. It is therefore important for the PBEC to keep members informed of the role of the HPCSA, Legal, the PBEC Committee of Preliminary Enquiry, and what processes are in place to ensure complaints are submitted correctly, in order for the correct action to be taken. The following are Frequently Asked Questions that the Committee of Preliminary feels necessary to share with members of the PBEC.

1. Who can complain to the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA)?

Any person can lodge a complaint to Council where they have been a victim of or witnessed unprofessional conduct by a registered practitioner.

2. When lodging a complaint, what supporting information is required?

When a person lodges a complaint, we would require a full/detailed letter of complaint outlining the allegations against the respondent practitioner; and where a person is complaining on behalf of another person, we would require a written corroboratory by the actual patient/ victim. Also, we would require any additional or supporting evidence that the complainant may have, for instance x-rays, medical reports/records, witness statements etc.

3. What types of cases will be investigated by the HPCSA?

Council investigates complaints against practitioners who have acted unethically or unprofessionally towards a patient or colleague during the rendering of a service to that patient. This may include performing acts beyond the scope of one’s registration, training or practice, fraud etc. Other complaints may not relate to the treatment of a patient, but maybe a violation of the ethical Rules of Conduct, for instance misleading advertising, failure to obtain informed consent etc. (see also the website Ethics).

4. Will the HPCSA investigate issues related to labour disputes?

Unless the labour issue resulted in the employee violating the Code of Ethics or stems from an employee acting unprofessionally or unethically towards a patient, labour disputes should be dealt with between the employer and the employee.

5. Are there cases that the HPCSA will not investigate?

Cases that will not be investigated by Council, inter alia, are complaints that fall outside the ambit or jurisdiction of council. We, as the legal department, investigate complaints against practitioners in their individual capacity and thus if a person wants to complain against an ambulance company and not an individual, for example, that must be referred to the Board. To use the above example, cases that are labour disputes between an employer and an employee for instance will also not be investigated.

6. On receipt of a complaint, what is the process that is followed to ensure the case is dealt with accordingly?

When a valid complaint is received, Council shall, within 7 days after such receipt, forward a copy of the complaint letter and annexures thereto, if any, to the respondent practitioner who must provide a written response/explanation to Council within 40working days of receipt of such complaint. Once the respondent’s response has been received, the matter will then be placed before a Committee of Preliminary Inquiry which will consider the matter and make a resolution as to whether there is any unprofessional conduct on the part of the respondent or not. In the event of the former, the Committee may find the practitioner guilty and impose one of three penalties:

(i) Impose a caution or a reprimand or a caution and a reprimand;

(ii) impose a fine; or

(iii) refer the matter to an Inquiry before a Professional Conduct Committee.

Should the Prelim Committee be of the view that there was no unprofessional conduct, they must accept the practitioner’s explanation and take no further action. ( see Regulations Relating to the Conduct of Inquiries read with chapter IV of the Act).

Notwithstanding the foregoing, the complaints management/handling process may take longer than envisaged where for instance further information may be required.

7. How can the complainant follow up on a case they submitted?

When a complaint is registered, a reference/ case number is generated and the Legal Records Officials communicate this to the complainant, together with the name and contact details of the Legal Officer handling that particular complaint. Thus, a complainant must follow up directly with the person handling their complaint.

Last Updated on 1 December 2016 by HPCSA Corporate Affairs