SECTION27 condemns the suspension of whistleblower Dr Tim De Maayer
SECTION27 calls on Gauteng Health authorities to lift suspension of health whistleblower and address Gauteng Health Crisis
10 June 2022, Johannesburg — SECTION27 condemns the punishment of brave whistleblowers who speak out against the failures of the health system. SECTION27 has often observed, and spoken out against, the persecution of whistle-blowers in the health sector, particularly in Gauteng. The latest healthcare worker to face these sanctions is Dr Tim De Maayer, who courageously wrote about the challenges of offering quality healthcare to children at Rahima Moosa Mother and Child Hospital in Gauteng on 22 May 2022.
After Dr De Maayer’s article was published, in the Steve Biko Centre for Bioethics Annual Lecture SECTION27’s Sasha Stevenson stated her support of Dr Tim De Maayer, and urged the Gauteng Department of Health (GDOH) not to sanction the latest whistleblower, as has happened time and again.
Yesterday, Dr De Maayer was served with a notice informing him that he was on precautionary suspension due to alleged “serious misconduct” for publishing his article about the dire state of Rahima Moosa Mother and Child Hospital and repeating his concerns on social media.
Dr De Maayer’s suspension removes him from his work with critically ill children who travel with their caregivers to get the help they urgently need. His are expertise that are 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.
Dr De Maayer’s article made clear the attempts that he and others had made to resolve problems at the hospital. He described doctors trying unsuccessfully to intubate children by cell phone light because of loadshedding, or the neonate whose incubator went cold for the same reason. He talked about the hospital-acquired infections spreading through the neonatal wards because taps are dry; the slow return of blood test results; the moral injury of counselling parents whose children shouldn’t have died. He made the devastating statement: “Children are dying and the horrendous conditions in our public hospitals are contributing to their deaths.”
Dr De Maayer’s statements elicited an anaemic response from the Gauteng Department of Health and then, three weeks later, his suspension.
Shooting the messenger is now standard practice in responding to whistleblowers 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 whistleblowers (and as a result, their patients) are punished.
Unfortunately, it’s not just in Gauteng. In June 2020, Professor Ebrahim Variava was suspended as Head of Internal Medicine at Tshepong Hospital in the North West. The hospital was the site of almost all COVID-19 admissions in the province at the time but the Department apparently could not bear his speaking out about stock outs of antibiotics and medication required for patients in ICU. He was suspended for alleged misconduct. Following a public legal and advocacy fight, the suspension was lifted two weeks later.
Most whistleblowing retribution in the health sector does not get the kind of attention that the suspension of these two senior doctors have received. As a result, many are left to fight alone, and are victimised, out of the public eye.
Even more worryingly, many more people are warned against speaking out against health system dysfunction out of fear of retribution. The risks to those who speak out are real. No one wants to elicit the ire of their employer. No one wants to risk a fight.
Our health system is in crisis and relies heavily on the hardworking staff that 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.
SECTION27 calls on health leadership to lift Dr De Maayer’s suspension immediately, and to stop the practice of retribution against health whistleblowers.
For media queries: Julia Chaskalson (firstname.lastname@example.org; 0834402674)