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What do you need to know about the Health Professions Act?

Dr Volker Hitzeroth, Medicolegal Adviser at Medical Protection, provides practical advice on relevant aspects of the Health Professions Act

The Health Professions Act (1974), with the National Health Act, are cornerstones of South African healthcare. The Health Professions Act “the Act” regulates the practice of medicine, as well as the various healthcare professions within the South African medical context. As junior doctors, it is important to be familiar with the content set out in the Act to ensure you are practising safely. 

What information does the Act contain?

The Act is divided into a number of chapters: 

  • Chapter 1 provides the statutory framework surrounding the establishment of the HPCSA and its professional boards, and outlines the objectives, functions and powers of the HPCSA. 
  • Chapter 2 contains guidance on the education and training, qualifications, ongoing CPD education and registration of healthcare practitioners. 
  • Chapter 3 outlines various offences relevant to healthcare practitioners. 
  • Chapter 4 explains the disciplinary powers of the professional boards. 
  • Chapter 5 contains further general and supplementary provisions.

Registering with the HPCSA

It is a legal requirement that every healthcare student, intern and practitioner is registered with the HPCSA.

Individuals completing their two-year medical internship remain trainees and are expected to work under supervision within the State sector; this is also true of individuals completing their one-year remunerated community service. They are registered as healthcare practitioners, but may not engage in independent private practice.

Upon completion of the community service year, an individual may register for independent practice with the HPCSA. It is only at this stage that they may practise independently, or locum in the private sector.

What happens during the HPCSA’s disciplinary process?

  • Once the HPCSA receives a complaint about a practitioner, it is forwarded to the registrar. At this stage you will be informed, in writing, of the complaint.
  • If the allegation is relatively minor in nature, the Ombudsman might intervene in an attempt to resolve the matter.
  • The practitioner is usually afforded the opportunity to respond to the complaint in writing.
  • The complaint and the relevant response are then investigated by the Preliminary Committee of Inquiry. Many matters are usually resolved at this stage with no further action being taken against the practitioner.
  • Alternatively, further additional information might be requested or, if the matter involves a minor offence, an admission of guilt fine might be imposed.
  • If the matter cannot be resolved by the Preliminary Committee of Inquiry, or relates to a serious offence, the HPCSA usually formulates formal charges against the practitioner concerned – after which the matter is escalated to a Professional Conduct Committee.
  • A hearing before a Professional Conduct Committee is a very formal and legalistic process. A Proforma Complainant investigates the charges and collects the relevant evidence on behalf of the complainant.
  • The accused practitioner is permitted to make use of legal representation in order to defend him or herself.
  • If, after the hearing, the matter is resolved and no further action is taken, this would usually be the end of the matter.
  • Alternatively, if the practitioner is found guilty of the charges a sanction would usually follow. This is reflected on the practitioner’s certificate of good standing.
  • The practitioner has a right to appeal within 21 days.

Important points

  1. A practitioner has a legal responsibility to notify the HPCSA of a change of address. It is recommended that the HPCSA is notified by registered mail or online, and that proof of the notification is kept by the practitioner.

     

  2. Never ignore correspondence from the HPCSA. This might result in a guilty finding of Contempt of Council. This offence is likely to attract a substantial fine.

     

  3. An intern is still in training and has to work under supervision within the State sector. An intern is not registered for independent practice and may not engage in any private or locum work.

     

  4. A community service practitioner receives remuneration for community service performed in the State sector. A community service practitioner is not registered for independent practice and may not engage in any private or locum work.

     

  5. A complaint at the HPCSA may be lodged by any natural or jurisdictive person, as well as any group, professional association or training institution.

     

  6. If you are notified about a complaint at the HPCSA relating to your conduct, seek immediate professional medicolegal advice from your indemnity organisation. Do not respond in an informal or emotive manner.

Find out more

  • Read the Act
  • If you need advice, contact a medicolegal adviser at medical.rsa@medicalprotection.org 
    or 0800 982 766.
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