Foreign-trained doctors rue not able to register to help fight COVID-19

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Frustrated, helpless and dejected – that’s how foreign-trained doctors desperate to register with the Health Professions Council of SA (HPCSA) and help stem the COVID-19 coronavirus epidemic say they feel as they watch the health system and its workers struggle to cope with the mounting cases. But, says a City Press report, their plight isn’t a new one.

The report quotes foreign-trained doctors as saying they’ve long decried the arduous process of registration with the medical profession regulator. It’s taken one doctor almost two years to have her application processed and, even now, she’s still a long way from legally and fully practising in local hospitals.

The report says numerous reports have previously detailed not only the foreign doctors’ difficulties in registering with the HPCSA, but those of doctors who were born in South Africa, but trained abroad. In May, the matter reached the courts in an effort to order the HPCSA to allow 38 of these doctors to write and pass the board exam, which would qualify them for internships at local hospitals.

City Press reports that what’s made the medics’ plight more urgent has been watching the toll the pandemic is taking on those hospitals, many of which are short-staffed and have increasing numbers of COVID-19 patients filling their wards each day. The report says many foreign-trained doctors volunteer at hospitals and work free of charge, pending the completion of their registration applications, to keep their skills sharp and gain workplace experience

However, the arrival of 187 Cuban medical specialists brought in for their primary healthcare expertise – at a hefty price tag of R239m – to help the local response to the virus has embittered the other foreign-trained doctors, as the Cubans’ registration process took just three to 10 days on average, effectively bypassing all the red tape others have to negotiate. This has been explained to be as a result of the bilateral ties between South Africa and Cuba, dating back to the early 1990s.

According to the HPCSA, there are currently 306 foreign-trained doctors who’ve applied for registration, but need to write the board exam before they get it. Meanwhile, City Press reports, these medics are doing all they can to help combat the infection crisis, by whatever means.

Full City Press report

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