/ 27 June 2013

Past catches up with ‘candy store’ doctor

Last month, the Mail & Guardian reported that Limpopo doctor Dr Allick Dube was placed on leave after staff went on strike at Messina Hospital in Musina, where he was acting clinical manager, citing a host of allegations of mistreatment of staff and patients under his care.

He purportedly targeted foreign doctors, describing them as "incompetent” and driving several away from an already understaffed hospital. He was also accused of providing inadequate care, and even refusing treatment entirely, to many rape victims.  As concern mounted, hospital staff and Musina citizens began to research his past and found news articles that referred to murder charges and the suspension of his medical licence.

The M&G has now received confirmation of these charges. According to Mark Montgomery, an investigator based at the Douglas County district attorney's office and tasked with working on the case, Dube "was distributing pain pills like you go to the store and buy candy”. 

Nine out of 10 patients paid in cash, he said, and nearly all were drug addicts. Two died of an overdose and Dube was "charged and indicted before a grand jury for two counts of murder, one count of theft by extortion and 125 counts of violation of Georgia's Controlled Substances Act”. 

Montgomery said the murder charges were reduced to involuntary manslaugher as part of a negotiated plea. In 2004, Dube pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 15 years in prison. He served three and is still on felony probation in the US. He has been banned from practising medicine in the county for 10 years. 

'We did not know'
Records from the Georgia Composite Medical Board show that Dube's medical licence was suspended for six months in 1991 after he had falsified payment claims and patient information. 

He was later suspended again and fined tens of thousands of dollars for admitting patients to hospital during his initial suspension period as well as helping unqualified staff prescribe medicine.

When asked if the Limpopo health department knew of Dube's history, Norman Mabasa, the Limpopo health MEC, said: "We did not know [at the time of hiring] and we do not know even now.”

Mabasa said that all allegations made against Dube would be investigated by a six-person task team, appointed by the department after the May strike. But, despite the serious allegations being made about him, the investigation will not focus only, or even primarily, on him. 

"They're looking at all aspects of the challenges that we have at Messina Hospital,” Mabasa said. "They will be looking at everyone, whether it be workers or managers or Dr Dube.” 

Once an initial report of the task team was filed, "we'll then look at investigations to do at each one.” 

Mabasa, who expected the report to be completed this week, said the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) was responsible for registering health professionals working in the country. "As long as they call him a doctor and he's in the registry, then he can work anywhere in the country.”

Bertha Peters-Scheepers, spokesperson for the council, said that the council registered Dube in 2009 after receiving documents confirming his medical education and previous medical licences, and receiving a thumbs up from the department of health's workforce management.

"The HPCSA has not received correspondence from any of the regulators in the US relating to the murder charge,” she said. 

Two complaints have since been lodged with the council, which is doing its own investigation. Discipline could include suspension, or being removed entirely from the list of registered practitioners.

Huge error
The investigator in Georgia said that no one had contacted him about the case. "I can't imagine that they did a very thorough investigation,” he said. "A phone call to any law enforcement in Douglas County would put them in touch with us here … They missed something huge.”

Soon after the task team's formation, five known strike leaders – all members of the National Education, Health and Allied Workers' Union, which took responsibility for the strike action in May – were indefinitely suspended. Weeks later, two other staff members were suspended, also allegedly for inciting the strike, despite not being union members. They are awaiting investigation and potential disciplinary action. 

"I'm sure that this is intimidation,” said one, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retribution. "They tried to get rid of the strong people who have an influence. They're trying to shut us up.”

There are rumours that Dube, who was not available for comment, may take up a position elsewhere. 

Mabasa said that Dube might be transferred to another hospital if the investigation took more than six months, the maximum amount of time allowed for paid leave. 

"He's on leave until all investigations that concern him are concluded,” Mabasa said.

Dube  was not immediately available for comment.