Despite South Africa’s critical shortage of doctors, with barely one doctor for every 1 000 patients, the national Health Department has told jobless doctors that “at no time did it commit to finding employment for medical doctors who have completed their community service”, reports Medical Brief.
Spokesperson Foster Mohale said the department was aware there are medical doctors who are still trying to find jobs after finishing their statutory community service but added that once they had completed this service, they “are free to seek employment in workplaces of their choice”.
Under the National Health Act, however, the National Department of Health – in conjunction with the provincial Departments of Health – is responsible for the placement of internship and community service applicants, reports The Citizen.
Mohale said it was the applicants’ responsibility to apply for positions at various hospitals under the jurisdiction of the provincial Departments of Health or in the private health sector.
In a previous discussion with SAMATU (the South African Medical Association Trade Union), a delegation was advised by the department to submit a list of unemployed doctors, personal details and the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) registration details of each one.
Mohale had said the department would then share that list with the provinces for them to assist with employment where they have funded vacant posts, but said this week that the union was yet to comply with this request and guidance.
On the threat of a planned march to the department’s headquarters in Pretoria today, he said they had received no notice about the event, but had been alerted to a social media poster bearing the name of the trade union and agitating for the march.
It was disturbing, Mohale said, that the excuse partly cited as the reason for the march was that the department commits itself to finding employment for doctors – this was giving false information and “exploiting the emotions of those desperately seeking employment”, he added.
IOL reports that SAMATU general secretary Dr Cedric Sihlangu said the department had essentially distanced itself from the responsibility to provide employment for the young doctors by “mischievously” distorting the National Health Act.
The “plight of unemployed doctors cannot be downplayed … when its consequences are devastating for the vulnerable people in our communities who desperately need their attention and expertise”.
“If the Minister is failing in his responsibilities, then a suitable replacement is needed urgently. We have had numerous engagements with the department on the alarming rate of unemployed doctors. It is even more concerning that they want to rely solely on a list from our union, which in fact was sent on multiple occasions.”
He said the issue would have a devastating impact on the future growth of the health profession, as it may deter people from wanting to become doctors, and that many doctors were moving abroad to find jobs, reports EWN.
“This is discouraging, especially for matriculants who are aspiring to become doctors and work in healthcare …where finding a job is not as easy as it used to be. So, it then becomes a point of reconsidering if they initially wanted to become a doctor.”
Health Minister Joe Phaahla said last year that the doctor-to-patient ratio was 1:3 per 198 patients and 0.31 doctors per 1 000 patients, and that the number of doctors is on the decrease.
Percy Mahlathi, deputy director-general for hospital services in the national Health Department, said they had a statutory obligation to employ interns for two years, which formed part of their training and then community service.
After community service, Mahlathi said there was no legal obligation to employ the interns. However, there was a moral obligation to employ them.
“That moral obligation is underpinned by the availability of budgets, as you can’t employ someone and then turn around and say you don’t have money to pay them.”
Mahlathi added that the issue was a struggle: out of 2 500 community service doctors they had last year from the union, between 200 and 400 were not employed.
This, he said, would mean the health sector had absorbed 2 100 doctors. In addition, the department was still conducting a provincial tally to find out where that number stood.
“The tally is ongoing – some take up employment at the end of January or the beginning of February.
“The budgets for employment are held by the provincial Health Departments, which is why we play a co-ordinating role at national level, and certainly once we have an accurate list we would engage with the provinces,” he added.
By their record, he said the list they were given had 200 community doctors, but it had gaps and was not accurate.
“We implore doctors not to wait for whatever attempts we do at the national level; instead they should approach the province to say they were available and apply for a post.”
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