Health Practitioners

According to a measurement exercise conducted not that long ago by the World Bank, 8.94% of South Africa’s total gross domestic product (that is, the rand value generated by the economy) went to public and private health expenditure.1 That means ‘health’ consumes a large proportion of our annual wages and salaries – and, of course, we do this because our health is a top priority.

The Health Professions Act 1974 established the Health Professions Council, and professional boards, in order to regulate, monitor and enforce standards of education, training and registration, and the practice of all these health professionals who are so important in our lives. The Act is administered by the Minister of Health.

A ‘health practitioner’ means any person (including a student) who is registered with the Council in one, or more, of the categories of health professions. This includes the family doctor (GP), dentists, psychologist, all sorts of specialists, physiotherapists, and others (but not so-called ‘Allied Health’ practitioners2).

The Minister established professional boards for each discipline. These are constituted by practising members, persons representing the community, educational institutions, health authorities, and even lawyers. Effectively each board is responsible for giving effect to the objects of the Act, and has wide powers.

A. Education, training and registration

  1. Nobody (except a university or technikon) may offer or provide any training which has as its object to qualify any person for the practice of any health profession; or the mental or physical examination of anyone; or the diagnosis, treatment or prevention of any defect, illness or deficiency, unless such training has been approved by the professional board concerned.3 It is a criminal offence to do otherwise.4

  2. No person may practise any health profession unless he is registered in terms of the Act,5 and commits an offence if he does otherwise.6

  3. It is an offence to pretend to be registered with the Council.7 It is also a crime to pretend to be registered in respect of any particular health profession.8

  4. It is a crime to impersonate any person registered with the Council.9

  5. No person may practice any particular health profession unless he is registered in terms of the Act in respect of such profession.10 It is a crime to do otherwise.11

  6. You may not even perform an act, deemed to be an act pertaining to any health profession,12 unless:
    • you are registered in terms of the Act in respect of such profession;13 or
    • you are registered in respect of another profession and the Act in question is also deemed to pertain to that profession;14 15 or
    • you are enrolled as a nurse, and the Act in question also pertains to nursing.16 17

    It is an offence if you contravene this prohibition.18

  7. It is also a crime to use any name, title, description or symbol likely to represent that you hold a qualification (which is one recognised by the relevant professional board) if this is false.19

  8. If the Minister has declared, by regulation, that use of a certain name is prohibited, it is a crime to contravene the prohibition.20

  9. If you procure, for yourself or for any other person, any of the following under false pretences you are guilty of a criminal offence:21
    • registration with the Council or professional board;
    • any certificate or order referenced in the Act.
  10. It is also an offence to make (or cause to be made) any entry, alteration, or deletion in the register unless it is authorised.22

  11. The same applies to any extracts from, or copies of the Register, and any certificates issued under the Act.23

  12. It is an offence to:
    • destroy, damage or render illegible any entry in the register or (without the holder’s permission) any certificate issued under the Act;24
    • forge any certificate.25
  13. A professional board may authorise someone to enter any institution, or premises utilised in education or training for the purposes of qualifying any person to practise a health profession, in order to conduct an investigation or enquiries.26 It is an offence to:27
    • prevent such an investigator from entering the premises or institution;
    • hinder him in his investigation.

B. The Council, professional boards and inquiries

  1. The Registrar of the Council is also its accounting officer and secretary, and of each professional board as well. He has several functions and obligations. Any person who obstructs the Registrar (or the Council for that matter) in his functions and duties is guilty of an offence.28

  2. Anyone who pretends to be the Registrar, commits an offence.29

  3. The Registrar can appoint an investigating officer for the purposes of (principally) the enquiry and investigation into any complaint, charge or allegation of unprofessional conduct, and compliance with the Act in general. These investigating officers have fairly wide powers – of calling for documents, things and explanations. It is an offence to:
    • refuse or fail to produce any book, document, data or thing requested by an investigating officer;30 and
    • hinder or obstruct him (or the Registrar) in the exercise of his duties.31
  4. It is an offence for any person who carried out or assisted in any investigation to disclose any information which came to his notice in the performance of his functions (except as required by law).32

  5. It is a crime to pretend to be an investigating officer.33

  6. For the purposes of an inquiry into a complaint or contravention of the Act, a professional board may take evidence.34 The Registrar can summon witnesses to attend, and require the production of books, documents and things.35 If you are summoned to such an inquiry, it is an offence to:
    • refuse or fail to attend;36
    • refuse to take the oath, or to make an affirmation about the evidence you give;37
    • refuse to produce any book, record, document or thing which you have been required to bring in terms of the summons;38
    • give false evidence.39

C. Prescriptions for medicine, etc.

  1. If you procure a prescription under false pretences (whether for yourself or for any other person) you are guilty of a criminal offence.40

  2. It is an offence for any doctor, dentist or any other person registered under the Act to accept or obtain from a pharmacy any commission, or other reward, in connection with a prescription he has given.41

  3. If you supply (or even offer) any instrument or appliance which can be used, or is claimed to be effective, for the purpose of diagnosing, treating or preventing human physical or mental defects, illnesses or deficiencies to someone who is not a registered health practitioner, or nurse, knowing that he will use it for the purpose of performing an act which the Act prohibits him from doing, you commit an offence.42


  2. For example: homeopaths, reflexologists, etc. 

  3. Section 16(1). 

  4. Section 16(5). 

  5. Section 17(1). 

  6. Section 17(5). 

  7. Section 17(5). 

  8. Section 40(b). 

  9. Section 55(f). 

  10. Section 34(1). 

  11. Section 34(2). 

  12. For example, extract a tooth. 

  13. Section 39(1)(a). 

  14. Section 39(1)(b). 

  15. For example, your dentist can give you a local anaesthetic, which also pertains to anaesthesiology. 

  16. Section 39(1)(e). 

  17. For example, removing stitches. 

  18. Section 39(2). 

  19. Section 40(b). 

  20. Section 40(c). 

  21. Section 55(a). 

  22. Section 55(b). 

  23. Section 55(b). 

  24. Section 55(d). 

  25. Section 55(e). 

  26. Section 60(1). 

  27. Section 60(2). 

  28. Section 13(6). 

  29. Section 41A(11)(c). 

  30. Section Section 41A(11)(a). 

  31. Section 41A(11)(b). 

  32. Section 41A(11)(d) read with section 41A(9). 

  33. Section 41A(11)(c). 

  34. Section 42(4)(a). 

  35. Section 42(4)(a). 

  36. Section 42(4)(c)(i). 

  37. Section 42(4)(c)(ii). 

  38. Section 42(4)(c)(iii). 

  39. Section 46. 

  40. Section 55(a). 

  41. Section 57. 

  42. Section 55(g).