Bhagat case: will it be a lesson in semantics?

The judge who will preside over the case of Botswana's most famed cardiologist, Professor Kiran Bhagat, may find that semantics classes are not only for English learners.

In the case a whopping 13 doctors, together with the Botswana Health Professions Council (BHPC) will defend their decision not to recognise Professor Bhagat as a cardiologist and to further "malign him" in the media. 

It appears that the crunch of the matter lies in the legal and medical jargon comprising four simple English questions: What is a specialist physician? Is it the same thing as a general physician? And what is a cardiologist? The bid to unravel these questions promises to become a lesson in semantics, as it has become clear that Bhagat and the BHPC differ on the meaning. While on the one hand Bhagat maintains that he is a Specialist Physician, whose area of specialty is Cardiology, the BHPC says he is neither, rather, this organisation maintains, he is a general physician.  It is on the use of General Physician and Specialist Physician that these parties differ.  In the normal training of medicine, a student, through five years of training becomes what is called a General Practitioner (GP). To specialise, the GP will usually need another three years of training and to go beyond the first specialisation, a further three years.

"Previously it was two years, but it has since been increased to three," a specialist doctor who preferred anonymity told Mmegi. In a letter to the BHPC, Professor Bhagat's lawyer Peter Collins brought it to the attention of the BHPC that his client is a Specialist Physician who has chosen Cardiology as his area of specialty.


"The profession in the case of a doctor specialising in Cardiology or cardio-vascular disease and care remains that of a Specialist Physician.  The right to call oneself a cardiologist is dependent upon the fulfilment of training requirements in the discipline of cardiology," Collins goes on to contend that it does not make sense for the BHPC to accept a specialist with 'inferior' training and refuse one with superior training in a field.

"Take the case of Dr Victor Singh who describes himself as a cardiologist and is registered as such with your council.  His qualifications and training experience are very similar, but actually inferior, to those of Dr Bhagat in cardiology.  The South African medical and dental council have him registered as both a Specialist Physician (1984) and a Cardiologist (1987) and yet [he] sat no separate exams to acquire the cardiology epithet.  He was senior registrar in cardiology at a Durban hospital for two and a half years (1985-1987) and that training and experience was the rationale for him to be registered with SAMDC as a cardiologist as an adjunct to his specialist physician profession.  He is registered with SAMDC in both capacities.  Dr Bhagat is in an identical position to Dr Singh."

In the same letter, Collins wonders why the BHPC acknowledges that Bhagat had trained in cardiology in UK in 1994 but refuses to register him as a Cardiologist under the pretext that the system has undergone changes since Bhagat was trained.  The deadline set by Collins for the BHPC to have retracted adverts they posted that informed the public that Prof Bhagat is not a Cardiologist expired this month, April 14. Apparently the BHPC remains adamant in its position of Bhagat's professional standing. It remains steadfast in its refusal to retract its original statement.

"We have done investigations on Professor Bhagat and we have now concluded that he is not a Cardiologist.  We require that one should have gone through and completed proper training for us to register him or her as a Cardiologist," Chairman of BHPC, Joseph Makhema told Mmegi earlier last week. True to his promise, Bhagat is now suing the council and its members on this matter.

Editor's Comment
Everyone should be on high alert

Close to half a million people in the country have been fully vaccinated while over 800,000 have received their first doses. Botswana has tackled tough hurdles, but the race is far from over.Batswana are gearing up for the holidays and there will be a lot of movement across the country and outside the country. Social gatherings are back in full force and now more than ever, people should observe COVID-19 protocols.Our neighbouring country South...

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