Red tape prevents foreign-trained medics joining SA’s COVID-19 fight

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More than 450 foreign-trained medical professionals say red tape is preventing them joining South Africa‘s coronavirus fight. The Times reports that writing in the SA Medical Journal, two foreign medical graduates said they had heard from 458 counterparts who are “currently in South Africa, and are either unemployed or working in non-medical roles. Almost all are willing to serve during the COVID-19 outbreak.” They say the Health Professions Council of SA (HPCSA) can take up to two years to register them, a claim the council has denied.

The report says at the same time, senior medics at the University of Cape Town have raised concerns about the “unethical practice” of First World nations recruiting doctors from poorer nations. In a letter to the journal, they criticised moves by the UK and US to expedite visa applications so foreign health workers could join the coronavirus workforce.

UCT’s head of global surgery, Salome Maswime, is quoted in the report as saying: “Rather than poaching from one another, there is an urgent need to increase training of health workers in all categories.” In their letter about HPCSA red tape, doctors Jehane le Grange and Jacques Jeppe said that “trying to expand South Africa’s health-care capacity while simultaneously contending with a loss of health-care staff due to COVID-19 could pose a significant challenge to a system already under strain”.

HPCSA spokesperson Priscilla Sekhonyana said that since the lockdown began the council’s turnaround time for registrations had been reduced from 10 working days to 72 hours. She said the regulatory body would, however, “not waive requirements for registration”. But to speed things up, Sekhonyana said, the council no longer insisted on original application forms and accepted applications submitted by e-mail.

Health department spokesperson Popo Maja said allowing unregistered doctors to assist during the COVID-19 outbreak could put lives in jeopardy. “No country in the world takes such a risk,” he said.

Sekhonyana said the delay in the processing of applications could be due to factors such as incomplete submission of evidence required for registration, including a list of documents with specific submission criteria, reports The Mercury. “The turnaround time depends on when an application was made and when the board examinations are scheduled,” she said.

Currently, the board examinations are scheduled twice a year, Sekhonyana said. She said following the examinations the board has to approve the results and their release. The HPCSA said there were no issues with the number of candidates who could sit for the exam.

Sekhonyana said the examination was taken online, over a period of days, from which the candidates could select the date convenient for them to sit for the exam. She said the clinical component was determined by the university contracted to administer the examinations.

“The HPCSA is currently administrating two examinations per year. Now that the exams are conducted online, the board may consider having more than two exams in a year.

Full Sunday Times report

SAMJ correspondence

SAMJ correspondence

Full report in The Mercury

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