Contrary to perceptions, South Africa has a surplus of posts for medicine graduates, but some interns have opted not to take them up, Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said in a Business Day report. Motsoaledi dismissed claims that pharmacy graduates had been left without placings because his department had failed to put them in its Internship Community Service Placement Programme.
He said it was only “a few” foreign nationals who had not been placed. “I can confirm that 795 pharmacists applied for community service. Of these, 716 are South Africans and have all been offered positions.”
The report says the minister’s statement came after queries from various medical bodies including the Pharmaceutical Society of SA (PSSA), which raised concerns about medicine graduates not being placed in the mandatory community service posts.
Offers were made to all 1,064 community service applicants, including pharmacists and general doctors, and 1,057 were placed. Only seven offers were rejected owing to family commitments, medical conditions, religion, legal restrictions and owning property.
A total of 75 foreign nationals were placed in community service out of the 88 who applied.
The community service pharmacists have been placed at contracted pharmacies where state patients are allowed to collect their monthly medication. The minister said those claiming to be without posts preferred to complete internships in urban areas.
Vice-chair of the South African Medical Association (SAMA) Mark Sonderup said in the report that although they were grateful for the minister responding to a very serious issue they were disappointed that it took him four months to do so. He said when they entered into an agreement of community service 20 years ago, it was agreed that people’s personal circumstances would be looked at before placements got made. He called for the digitisation of the system to allow for smoother application processes.
Head of public affairs at the PSSA Lorraine Osman said the new software that the government recently started using was problematic and that it complicated placements. She said insufficient funding and a shortage of posts had initially led to many interns not being placed in community service.
Motsoaledi said that medical students get married in November in order to ensure they don’t get sent to far-flung posts in rural areas or other provinces. He is quoted in The Times as saying that there is a spike in marriages‚ especially in KwaZulu-Natal‚ at the end of students’ six years of studying before they need to work full time. “I am not being cynical. It is like that… this is a societal issue‚” he said about the rushed marriages.
The report says doctors who are married are allowed to ask to be placed in certain cities for community service or internship in order to be near their spouses.
Community service is designed to improve staffing in rural and underserved areas. “An overwhelming number of newly qualified doctors prefer to do internships in mostly four cities: Cape Town‚ Durban‚ Johannesburg and Pretoria. A few may opt for Port Elizabeth‚ East London and Kimberly.”
Despite complaining that doctors didn’t want to work in rural areas‚ the report says Motsoaledi has, however‚ admitted that all community service jobs in Northern Cape were in Kimberly and no posts in rural areas were available. The Rural Health Advocacy Project reported recently that there were no community service posts in the province in rural areas‚ forcing doctors to work in city. Motsoaledi said he had just discovered this.
He said the reasons there were no posts in rural areas in the Northern Cape is because the province believed doctors wouldn’t take jobs in far-flung areas. “We have to change it.”
Unemployed doctors were upset by Motsoaledi’s statements, saying he made it seem “like there wasn’t a need for their services in the public sector”, despite a critical shortage of doctors at state hospitals.
SAMA has supported the doctors, describing his views as disappointing. According to a Cape Argus report, the doctors said his (Motsoaledi’s) the doctors said his statements were “hogwash”. On a closed Facebook group, they said there were no posts in KZN and this was reflected on the department’s website.
“I called hospitals I want to work at and they said they don’t have funds for posts,” said Dr Faheem Baba. Dr Avneeta Ramdukhi said: “I feel helpless now. Our own health minister had this to say. After we as doctors risk our lives and are willing to work in government hospitals.
“We just want posts available. He stated he received our lists of jobless doctors from Sama and if this is his response, what do we do now?”
Grootboom said the department had no mechanism to inform doctors of available jobs after community service.
“It is preposterous to suggest the department has no obligation to doctors in this regard… In a time of information technology this is perplexing and outdated. Instead, we have to learn from a media conference there are 147 available posts.”