In the face of a threatened class action, the Deputy Minister of Health Mathume Phaahla has announced that the Health Professions Council of SA will, for the interim, allow foreign trained students to write the local board exam without first having to complete their internships abroad.
News24 reports that the Deputy Minister was speaking at a debate in the National Assembly called for by Inkata Freedom Party (IFP) MP Narend Singh.
The report says this, after the HPCSA decided this year to enforce a regulation drafted in 2009, which would force South Africans who studied medicine abroad to do their internship in the land where they studied, before they would be allowed to take the board exam in May.
Some prospective doctors had received letters saying that they would be allowed to take the exam in May, only for it to be rescinded in February.
Phaahla agreed with Singh that the HPCSA’s decision had serious implications. He said that those students already approved for the board exam, will take it in May and the Department of Health will work with the HPCSA to find a long-term solution.
Singh thanked Phaahla for bringing a “round one victory”.
The report says the HPCSA’s enforcement of the regulation was condemned across party lines. Democratic Alliance (DA) MP Patricia Kopane said it was “absurd and appalling”. Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) MP Leigh Mathys said it was “beyond comprehension why South Africa is making it difficult for South Africans who studied abroad”. IFP MP Mkhuleko Hlengwa said a scarce skill was hampered by large-scale regulations and the HPCSA’s powers should be looked at.
Many speakers in the debate also said that this highlighted that South Africa did not have enough doctors and that its universities did not produce enough medical professionals for the burgeoning need.
The report says while there was broad agreement about the regulation, the DA and ANC still had a go at each other, with the DA complaining about the government sending South African medical students to Cuba, and the ANC (including NFP MP Munzoor Shaik-Emam), saying the DA doesn’t support this initiative because it is the “poorest of the poor” who benefit from it.
It was earlier reported that foreign-trained medical students, including Kapil Sevnaran, who qualified last year at the Shandong Medical University, are now in limbo because the HPCSA has from last month been insisting that graduates do internships in the country where they studied before writing their medical board exams in South Africa.
The Times reports that many of the graduates say the council’s policy is disappointing because it hinders their intention of “giving back” to South Africa’s health system.
The report says the affected doctors have also been asked by the council to provide “an original certificate of good standing, which shall not be more than six months old, issued by the foreign registration authority where the applicant is or was registered”. In a letter to those who applied to write the board exam, the council said the decision last month to implement the policy “is meant to address an incorrect interpretation of the regulations” concerning qualifications obtained outside South Africa.
Doctors – many who have studied in Romania, Mauritius or China – argue that the regulation, first drafted in 2009 but only implemented now, would pose a “huge challenge” for them because of residency issues. Sevnaran and several others in the same position have engaged legal team Pravda and Knowles to try to compel the council to allow them to sit the board exam in May.
The report says implementation of the policy comes at a time when South Africa is facing a critical shortage of doctors. A 2016 report by economic consulting firm Econex, commissioned by the Hospital Association of South Africa, showed that in 2013 the country had 25 state doctors and 92 private sector doctors per 100 000 people.
Attorney Annie Tooray of Pravda and Knowles said a court appeal had been lodged to challenge the council’s decision. “The next step is . . . to make this into a class action as there are many who are prejudiced and affected,” she said. “The HPCSA has been served the appeal and they will have to advise of their reasons of decision and opposition.”
Neither the Health Department nor the HPCSA responded to requests for comment on the issue.