Medical Malpractice for Healthcare Professionals
Any person or company may lodge a complaint to the Health Professions
Council of South Africa (HPCSA) against a healthcare professional
registered with the HPCSA, for unprofessional conduct. Section 61 of the
Health Professions Act, 1974 regulates the complaint process. The HPCSA
administers the complaint process. Conduct is unprofessional if a
healthcare professional acts in a manner that is detrimental to a patient’s
good health and quality healthcare. For example, a patient can complain to
the HPCSA if the healthcare practitioner has conducted themselves in such
a way that the patient:
The complaint process begins when the patient, or an affected party,
completes a complaint form and sends it to the HPCSA.
The HPCSA registrar will then:
When the registrar has analysed and accepted the complaint they can ask
the complainant for more information. After the registrar is satisfied that
they have the necessary information the registrar must notify the
healthcare practitioner by sending them a copy of the complaint and any
further information. The registrar then requests the healthcare practitioner
to respond to the complaint. The healthcare practitioner must respond to
the complaint within 40 working days from the date of receipt of the
When the response is received by the HPCSA the registrar will refer the
complaint, additional information and the healthcare practitioner’s
response to the preliminary committee of inquiry.
The preliminary committee of inquiry will assess the documents to
determine whether they are satisfied with the response from the
healthcare practitioner and the explanation provided or if they wish to take
The healthcare practitioner can choose to remain silent and not respond to
the complaint but this must be communicated to the HPCSA. If the
healthcare practitioner does not respond to the complaint the HPCSA can
still take disciplinary action, therefore it is advisable for the healthcare
practitioner to respond substantively.
See part two of this “What If” series for what follows if the preliminary
committee chooses to take further steps.
We will assist you by notifying the relevant insurer to confirm that the defence costs are covered
by the insurance contract.
The legal team will assess the complaint and assist you in responding to the HPCSA. The insurer
may decide to involve attorneys depending on the severity of the complaint. The attorneys that the
insurer instructs to assist you will contact you to set up a meeting to discuss the process and the
possible outcomes. The attorneys will need to be provided with all the patient’s records and a draft
response from you prior to this meeting.
Any person or company may lodge a complaint to the HPCSA
against a healthcare professional registered with the HPCSA, for
Section 61 of the Health Professions Act, 1974 regulates the
See part 1 of this “What if series” on the initial complaint process.
It deals with the complaint by the patient to the HPCSA and the
response by the healthcare practitioner.
If after consideration of the complaint, the healthcare
practitioner’s response and explanation and all additional
information available, the preliminary committee of inquiry does
not accept the healthcare practitioner’s response the committee
The healthcare practitioner can reject the admission of guilt fine. If the
healthcare practitioner decides to do this then a formal inquiry will be held.
If the preliminary committee decides to hold an inquiry then this must be
communicated to the practitioner with a date for the inquiry. The registrar can
arrange for either a formal or an informal inquiry.
At the informal inquiry the complaint and the healthcare practitioner’s
response is discussed with the healthcare practitioner involved, other
healthcare practitioners and other members of the public who are not
practitioners. The healthcare practitioner can have a legal representative
present however the legal representative cannot participate in the inquiry.
At the informal inquiry the practitioner will either be found not guilty or the
committee can recommend that the practitioner go through a formal inquiry.
All communication must be confirmed in writing from the registrar.
A formal inquiry works similarly to court proceedings. The healthcare
practitioner will receive a charge sheet which outlines briefly the charges being
brought against the practitioner. An attorney, advocate and expert witnesses
can be used to represent the healthcare practitioner’s interests. The inquiry will
have an outcome of guilty or not guilty. A guilty outcome results in penalties
such as a fine or a suspension of the practitioner’s license to practice.
The HPCSA will communicate their decision regarding your response to the
complaint within a time period of 6 months to a year but their response may
take even longer.
The legal team who assisted with your response to the initial complaint will
assist with any further steps taken by the HPCSA. The Insurer may have
responded to the complainant with their in-house legal team and might then
decide to appoint attorneys in the event that the HPCSA decides to refer the
complaint and the response to a informal or formal inquiry.
Administration: 0860 NATMED (628 633)