The Citizen (Gauteng)

Graduate doctors in distress


- Sipho Mabena –

Group’s lawyers have meeting with Health Profession­s Council of SA.

As Finance Minister Tito Mboweni happily dishes out hundreds of millions of rands to keep poorly managed and corrupt state-owned enterprise­s in the green – the latest being R10 billion for SA Airways (SAA) – government has been accused of scuppering its interventi­on to improve access to health care.

There have been reports of more than 150 graduate doctors in limbo due to the health department’s alleged lack of funding for community service placement.

Kalvin Maharaj, a student doctor representi­ng KwaZulu-Natal, confirmed yesterday there were about 55 doctors waiting for placement in his group.

“Our lawyers have scheduled a meeting with the HPCSA [Health Profession­s Council of SA] over this matter. We will have to wait for the outcome of that meeting, which would then determine what would happen next,” he said.

Department of health spokespers­on Popo Maja could not be reached for comment and had not responded to questions by the time of going to press.

For several years, the health department has seemingly battled with placing graduate doctors in public facilities for their mandatory community service to complete their training.

Public health experts have lamented government’s drive to increase the intake of medical students, including the SA-Cuba doctor training programme, to address increased access to healthcare.

“By not placing these healthcare workers due to lack of funds, we are depriving South Africans of health care. We are also not recouping our investment in training,” Dr Atiya Mosam, a public health medicine specialist, said.

She said this came at a great loss to the graduate doctors because until they have completed their community service and registered as independen­t practition­ers, they cannot work anywhere else in the country.

Mosam said such maladminis­tration also resulted in SA losing these doctors to other countries which, she said, was a loss of investment as government subsidises medical students.

She added the graduate doctors could also have been deployed as front-line health workers for Covid-19 interventi­on to replace Cuban doctors with an alleged R440 million price tag.

Public health specialist Dr Shakira Choonara said lack of doctor placement has been a recurring issue. She said these much-needed graduates were at the mercy of high levels of bureaucrac­y.

“Time and again, they have to organise protests and raise the issue wherever possible. Year after year it is the same issue. The government’s human resources for health strategy 2030 also highlights how weak human resources systems are in terms of including tracking personnel in the system,” she said.

Choonara said government should review the mandatory community service or ensure graduates were placed as this current situation was unacceptab­le.

According to trade union Solidarity, government should consider approachin­g the private sector as it was unable to cope financiall­y and administra­tively to place students. Paul Maritz, the union’s manager of youth and career developmen­t, said the current situation left the “state no choice but to approach the private sector to assist with the placements and the funding of internship­s for junior medical practition­ers”.

He said problems were not just limited to the placements but that the entire system was flawed.

Junior doctors were placed late, in unfamiliar areas, when applicatio­ns for accommodat­ion and other arrangemen­ts were closed.

“The private sector, however, is ready to take in and train these interns. The private sector just needs the approval to do so,” Maritz added.

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