MASERU — Queen Elizabeth II Hospital has been rocked by a scam involving unscrupulous doctors who are selling sick leave notes to people who are not ill.
Under normal circumstances a sick leave note is given for free by a doctor after examining a patient.
The idea is that the patient is too sick to work or their medication requires that they take a rest.
But the Lesotho Times can reveal that some doctors at the country’s only referral hospital have been selling the notes to people who want to avoid going to work.
A source at the hospital said most of the sick notes are sold to people who would have missed work for several days and want proof that they have been sick.
People who want to avoid work are also involved in the scam,
The source said a fake sick leave note can cost between M50 and M100 depending on the number of days that the person wants to stay at home.
So serious is the problem that the hospital has ordered doctors to stop giving the notes after recently discovering the malpractice.
Before this all senior doctors at the hospital could give sick notes.
According to the new arrangement only the hospital’s medical superintendent Dr Maama Mojela (pictured) and another senior doctor are allowed to give sick leave notes.
The Ministry of Health and Social Welfare’s public relations officer ‘Mateboho Mosebekoa confirmed that only the two doctors were now allowed to give the notes.
Mosebekoa also confirmed that an internal investigation is now under way but could not shed more light “as that would jeopardise the ongoing probe”.
She said Mojela had instructed that the matter should not be discussed with the press until investigations are completed.
When contacted last night Mojela declined to comment on the matter.
Last Friday Mojela agreed to meet this reporter at his office to discuss the matter but baulked at the last minute saying the reporter should have gone through the health ministry before coming to him.
Most companies insist on an approved sick leave note from government health centres to ensure that the documents are authentic and are issued by a qualified doctor and not some backyard clinics that operate in the country.
But as more people seek sick leave notes government doctors have started to abuse that trust.
It is unethical for a doctor to sign a fake sick leave note.
The source said the scam was discovered after employers raised concern with the hospital management which immediately launched an investigation.
The same source said so far investigations have revealed that it is mostly factory employees who seek the fake sick leave notes.
The “no work no pay policy” in the textile industry seems to be the main reason why most factory workers resort to buying sick leave notes so they can dodge work and still get paid.
When one bunks work for days and then comes back armed with a doctor’s sick leave note it is difficult for the textile owners to garnish their pay.
“It was discovered that some employees were misusing sick leaves. They would request for them so they can dodge work,” said the Queen II source.
“Some employers complained that their employees were given sick leave even when they appeared to be in good health.
“Employers said they would sometimes see their employees up and well one day only to receive their approved sick leaves the next day. That raised suspicions and some employers called the senior hospital officers to complain,” she added.
A number of textile companies are said to have opened their own clinics to reduce the number of employees going to public health centres to obtain fake sick leave notes.
Jennifer Chen of Shining Century, a textile factory in Maseru Industrial Area, said the use of fake sick notes was rampant amongst the company’s employees.
An official from Shining Century’s human resources department who refused to give her name said more than 50 percent of their employees regularly submit sick leave notes, a figure which she said was much higher than other industries.
However, Seabata Likoti, the Factory Workers’ Union deputy general secretary denied that some textile employees were buying fake sick notes.
“These allegations have not been confirmed. We have heard these claims but they have not been proven,” he said.
Likoti said some employers had gone out of their way and bought some sick leave notes to prove their case.
“And when they manage to get them they conclude that their employees are doing it.”
According to the International
Labour Organisation, sick leave, or paid sick days or sick pay, is time off from work that workers can use during periods of temporary sickness to stay home and address their health and safety needs without losing pay or their jobs.