Fake sick notes: cops called in

Information on a bogus sick note led the Cape Argus to the Philippi shopping mall, but there is no doctor' s surgery here.

A Free State surgeon says she has asked Cape Town police to investigate after bogus sick notes using her practice number were reported to her by several city companies and educational institutions.

A lecturer from the Cape Peninsula University of Technology's (CPUT) business faculty, who asked not to be named, said she had to disqualify two undergraduate students from her course late last year after they used fake sick notes to excuse themselves from submitting assignments.

The lecturer investigated, and discovered that a practice number listed on the sick note as belonging to "Dr Christopher Adams" actually belonged to a surgeon in the Free State.

The Cape Argus had since established that "Dr Adams" does not appear on the register of either the Health Professions Council of SA (HPCSA) or the Board of Healthcare Funders (BHF) registers.

One of the certificates, which prompted the suspicious lecturer to investigate, is riddled with spelling errors. It lists the student's condition as "severe jonsilitis" instead of tonsilitis.

"Dr Adams" lists his qualification as being a "M.B.Ch", but the proper qualification is MBChB.

The doctor's address on the sick note is given as shop 23 at the Philippi shopping mall, but when the Cape Argus visited the mall it discovered that there were only 16 shops, and there was no doctor's surgery.

Free State surgeon Dr Rachel de Bruin said she had received several calls from Cape Town companies and education institutions, including one from the CPUT lecturer, querying the length of sick leave she had allegedly granted to employees or students.
She had explained to them that she was a surgeon based in an entirely different province.

De Bruin said she had not taken the matter seriously at first, but had become "worried" after receiving a number of calls - at least five in the past four months, she said.

People had queried "dodgy looking diagnosis, lengthy sick leave and even spelling on these sick notes", De Bruin said.
"I'm very worried about this doctor because it is my reputation that is at stake here."

She was not certain which police station in Cape Town was investigating her concerns, she said.

The Western Cape police were unable to provide any information about an investigation by the time of going to press.
Lynette Swanepoel, forensic management unit co-ordinator at the Board of Healthcare Funders, said the practice number that "Dr Adams" used in his sick notes was an inactive number which used to belong to De Bruin before she qualified as a specialist surgeon.

Swanepoel said there was nobody with the name of "Dr Christopher Adams" in the BHF's practice code numbering system. "It is of course entirely possible that this person is running a so-called cash practice and if this is the case the patients will be prejudiced as they will not be able claim a refund from their medical scheme due to the fact that the practice number is no longer active," she said.

HPCSA spokeswoman Lize Nel promised that the body would launch an urgent investigation into the doctor, and warned people to be vigilant when visiting doctors.

"We would like to remind the public that they have the right to request an HPCSA annual registration card to ensure the practitioner they go to is registered with the appropriate regulatory body and has the necessary qualifications and experience," she said.

The Cape Chamber of Commerce also warned businesses to be vigilant when dealing with sick leave, and urged employers not to accept sick notes at face value because the use of bogus doctors who sold sick certificates was on the rise in the city.

Chamber president Michael Bagraim described the abuse of sick notes as a "major problem" in the commerce and industry sector with bogus doctors, sangomas, nurses and even legitimate doctors responsible for issuing fake certificates. Bagraim, who is also a labour lawyer, said that surveys by his firm had found that the going price of a sick note was anything between R70 and R100.
The amount increased with the number of off days requested by the "patient", he said. "Unfortunately, many people think they are entitled to make use of all the sick leave provided for in the company rules and they sometimes fake illnesses or buy sick leave notes. This is a form of fraud but it is not always easy to prove," he said.

March 2 2011 at 12:11pm
Cape Argus

Sipokazi Fokazi
Health Writer