A recently convicted doctor caught redhanded issuing a false sick note is at it once again – dishing out a medical certificate for cash and booking a healthy person off work.
This came to light following a Weekend Post investigation into Dr Bongani Nqini, who runs his surgery from Njoli Square in Zwide.
He was arrested in 2010 for issuing a sick note without conducting an examination.
Nqini was found guilty in the Port Elizabeth Commercial Crimes Court in August last year of issuing the sick note and then submitting a claim to a medical aid scheme.
He will appeal against the decision in the Port Elizabeth Magistrate’s Court next week. Industry watchdog the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) has confirmed that its own probe is ongoing.
Last week, after a Port Elizabeth businessman contacted Weekend Post raising concerns about his seemingly healthy staff who were being booked off by Nqini, a reporter visited the surgery and was given a fake medical certificate less than 10 minutes after entering Nqini’s rooms.
The reporter first opened a file at the receptionist and paid R200.
Nqini, who did not examine the reporter, issued a medical certificate, saying getting amedical certificate from him was easy as he was not a “difficult person”.
While making friendly small talk, Nqini asked the reporter what the diagnosis should be. She suggested diarrhoea, but Nqini said that would not get her the five days she needed, so he suggested tonsillitis.
The reporter was given five days to sort out what she told Nqini was a “personal matter in Cape Town”.
HPCSA spokesman Fezile Sifunda confirmed that Nqini had been found guilty internally of unprofessional conduct last year and a fine had been imposed.
“Currently, the practitioner is still under investigation as the respondent has appealed the court decision,” Sifunda said.
According to HPCSA guidelines, a professional conduct committee should hold an inquiry into any allegations of misconduct.
If a doctor is found guilty of misconduct, the committee can issue a fine, suspend the doctor from practising, or remove him from the relevant register, preventing him from practising as a doctor.
Asked why Nqini was still practising, Sifunda said the HPCSA was waiting for the criminal process to be finalised. “The practitioner is not suspended from practicing as the investigation is still ongoing.”
Nqini was arrested in early 2010 after undercover policewoman Constable Nombulelo Tyali had obtained a backdated medical certificate without being examined just days earlier.
Tyali had visited Nqini’s rooms and informed him that she had not been at work for the past two days and needed a letter.
Nqini issued her a backdated medical certificate, falsely stating he had examined her and found she had viral influenza.
He also submitted a false claim of R211.30 to the police medical aid scheme, Polmed. Last year Nqini was handed a R40 000 fine or two years in jail for fraud and attempted fraud.
Half of the sentence was suspended for a period of five years on condition that he was not convicted of fraud committed during the period of suspension.
Port Elizabeth-based absenteeism management company Absolv said absenteeism cost businesses about R34.1-billion in wage losses and about R68-billion in productivity losses nationally each year.
Absolv director Dalino Fortuin said the issuing of false sick notes was very common, which was why companies were turning to software solutions to curb the problem.
“Doctors issuing false sick certificates is a national problem and certainly an issue in Nelson Mandela Bay,” he said. “Opportunistic sick leave costs local businesses millions of rands each year, conservatively, in the Bay alone.”
Fortuin said doctors were becoming more inventive with what they diagnosed patients with and marked down on the sick notes.
“They are aware that employers are tightening up on the legitimacy of certain sick certificates and have begun questioning why certain staff are constantly not performing.
“There is cause for concern around this issue as it could cripple businesses,” he said.
Fortuin explained that their software, which was used by several corporate companies, managed to identify the doctor and the most common reasons listed on the sick notes, making it easier to investigate.
“Once this is determined the employer can then question the doctor as well as the employee,” he said.
Nelson Mandela Bay Business Chamber chief executive Kevin Hustler warned that high absenteeism had a negative impact on businesses in the city.
“We are informed by the Nelson Mandela Bay Human Resources Forum that false sick notes are a major issue, although it is difficult to challenge from an employer perspective,” he said.
“Employees who take excessive sick leave affect the efficiency of the organisation, and could mean that extra cost is incurred by the company.
“Fraud is a dismissible offence and employees who use fraudulent sick notes put their own jobs at risk,” he said.
Police spokeswoman Colonel Priscilla Naidu said that if Nqini was allegedly in violation of his suspended sentence he could face re- arrest.
“A case would have to be registered and then another investigation will commence into fresh allegations of fraud,” she said.
“The suspended sentence will only be enforced if the suspect is found guilty of the recent case of fraud and violation of his suspended sentence.”