A gynaecologist who was sentenced to five years direct imprisonment for the death of a patient due to labour complications plans to petition the SCA to appeal his conviction and sentence after the Gauteng High Court (Pretoria) confirmed the findings of the eMalahleni Regional Court.

Netwerk24 reports that colleagues of Dr Danie van der Walt, from Mpumalanga, are rallying behind him, saying the ‘harsh’ sentence may be the last straw for obstetricians who claim to be under siege from civil litigation and cannot afford soaring malpractice insurance.

Van der Walt was convicted in 2016 in connection with the death of Pamela Noni Daweti. The doctor said he advised Daweti to give birth via a c-section, but her family insisted on a natural birth. Daweti suffered serious injuries during the labour process. Van der Walt was called from the hospital in the early hours of the morning, but initially gave only telephonic instructions for nursing personnel without returning to hospital.

The court held that he was grossly negligent as he should have returned to the hospital immediately for the emergency instead of hours later after a second call.

Professor Leon Snyman, of the SA Association for Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, says the verdict sends a chilling message for doctors attending to such cases. He says the insurance premium for obstetricians is R1m a year and doctors practising in this field must deliver 24 babies a month just to cover their insurance fees.

‘Now one of our members gets sent to prison for a basic human error.’

Van der Walt is thought to be the first doctor to be sentenced to direct imprisonment for negligence, the report notes. Dr Deon Kotzé was given a suspended prison sentence and community service in 2017 for causing the death under anaesthesia of two-year-old Juandré Bennett.

Full Netwerk24 report (subscription needed)