A growing number of medical students, parents, doctors and prominent legal figures have come out against a policy that makes it difficult for South Africans who studied medicine abroad to obtain Health Professions Council of SA (HPCSA) accreditation, reports the Sunday Tribune.
The council recently ruled that graduates who studied abroad have to first complete an internship in the countries where they studied before writing their board examinations. The report says this would not be possible for many due to work permits and residency issues in these different countries. And despite being in existence since 2009, the HPCSA rule has never been implemented until now.
The report says more than 300 affected people attended a meeting at Kampara Conference Centre in Clare Road, Clare Estate, to join a class action against the council. This followed an urgent application appealing against the rule by a returning KZN doctor, Kapil Sevnaran, in the Gauteng High Court on Friday of last week. Attorney Annie Tooray of Pravda and Knowles Attorneys said the application had been launched against the HPCSA so that those affected would, hopefully, be able to write the upcoming May board exams.
According to the report, other returning doctors at the meeting said they would join the application. Prominent legal figures including Judge Shyam Gyanda, advocate Feisal Abraham, and advocate Rajesh Choudree were present to lend their support to the proposed action. Some pledged to fight on behalf of the returning doctors on a pro bono basis.
The report says Sevnaran’s application states that the HPCSA had “unethically and inefficiently” conducted itself to the detriment and prejudice of young and aspiring South African doctors in a country that faces a dire shortage.
It was only in early February, that many returning medical graduates were advised that they would not qualify to write the examinations before they completed internships in their countries of study. The doctors were also allegedly told that the department of health could not accommodate them as interns at local hospitals, leaving hundreds of the returning doctors in limbo.
Some of the same doctors had applied to write the HPSCA board exam last year, but the council had overbooked and they were asked to apply to write the exam in May.
The report says parents and doctors at the meeting expressed concern that returning doctors were intentionally being side-lined as a result of government prioritising its Cuban medical student programme.
A general manager from the SA Medical Association (SAMA) in Johannesburg, Manivasan Thandroyen, also flew to Durban to attend the meeting. He said the association was sympathetic to the plight of those affected. “Even though the returning doctors cannot be part of SAMA until they have registered with the HPCSA, we still understand their difficulties and will lend our support to them,” said Thandroyen.
HPCSA spokesperson Priscilla Sekhonyana said that a meeting with affected parties was scheduled to take place last week, but it had been postponed. “It will only be taking place in the coming weeks. Only after the meeting has taken place will I be able to provide more information,” Sekhonyana is quoted in the report as saying.
National Department of Health spokesperson Popo Maja said the plight faced by returning doctors was a “complex” issue and of huge public interest. “The Ministry of Health is sensitive to the issue. We are currently engaging with relevant stakeholders to identify potential solutions. This is inclusive of the deans of our medical schools, the HPCSA, as well as SAMA and its affiliates,” said Maja.
Motsoaledi had warned earlier that the shortage of doctors would not be used as an excuse to accept students who qualified abroad into the South African health system. “The training of medicine around the world is not universal and training differs from country to country,” the minister told the National Assembly about the internship of students who studied abroad, specifically China.
The Daily News reports he was responding to IFP MP Narend Singh, who had asked about the outcry from students who had studied abroad.
According to the report, SAMA’s Professor Mark Sonderup said they were looking into the legal framework of the Health Department’s regulations, and were hoping to resolve this issue amicably.
Student doctors said it was not possible to complete internships in some countries because of work-permit issues. They felt their only option was to return to South Africa and complete their internship here, but the Health Department apparently would not accept this, even on a voluntary basis.
Motsoaledi said it was a very serious matter. “The Free State province, which officially sent students to China, is busy re-routing them to Cuba and Russia because of the problem that exists there. I want to dissuade you from believing that because there is a shortage of doctors in South Africa, everything that comes in is welcome in this country. That is wrong.
“The training of medicine around the world is not universal. It differs from country to country depending on their culture and on their living conditions, so for that reason a doctor trained in another part of the world cannot become a doctor here,” Motsoaledi said.
Sekhonyana said a notice was issued to affected practitioners applying for the board exams – 77 students who studied medicine abroad had applied for the exams.
Sonderup said in the report: “We await an opinion from our senior counsel.” He said other countries, especially China, had a greater number of medical schools which allowed them to accommodate far more students than South Africa could.
“In this country, the top pupils are selected. This is a challenge because if you have 1,000 applicants, only 100 are selected,” Sonderup said. He said the syllabus and curriculum might vary slightly, but this did not necessarily mean that what the students learnt was not compatible to the health system in South Africa. “It does not mean that training abroad makes them incompetent.”