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Severe budget drop adds to a spike in health-related vacancies

Health Minister Dr Joe Phaahla said the provinces were unable to fill existing vacant posts despite service delivery needs or demands.

Health Minister Dr Joe Phaahla said the provinces were unable to fill existing vacant posts despite service delivery needs or demands.

Published Jun 13, 2023

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Cape Town - The budget for salaries of employees in the Health Department has dropped by R458.4 million compared to the 2021-22 financial year.

This has negatively affected human resources capacity in the public health sector and as such forced provincial departments to freeze or cut posts funded through the Equitable Share to avoid overspending in compensation of employees, according to Health Minister Dr Joe Phaalha.

The overall vacant posts were 45 072; 35 462 of them being health-related and 9 610 administration and support-related posts at the end of April.

“The situation was further aggravated by the cessation of the Covid-19 grant budget as on March 31, 2023, which resulted in termination of employment contracts for employees employed through the grant,” he said.

Phaahla said the provinces were unable to fill existing vacant posts despite service delivery needs or demands.

“Instead, they (provinces) are required to prioritise filling of posts across all levels of care within the available budget. In order to mitigate the above, the provincial Departments of Health introduced several interventions to address the shortage of health workers such as amongst others doctors, nurses, and general workers in healthcare facilities.”

Phaahla said the interventions include prioritisation of the posts in the annual recruitment plan where funding permitted, prioritisation of the posts for conditional grant funding, filling of replacement posts considered and approved through annual recruitment plan and provision of internship, and community service programmes.

Phaahla disclosed these details in response to EFF MP Naledi Chirwa’s parliamentary questions who noted reports on the shortage of doctors, nurses, and general workers in public healthcare facilities.

Chirwa asked Phaahla to outline the total number of personnel shortages in each province and also indicate the date when the vacancies will be filled.

Phaahla’s response showed that Gauteng has the highest health-related vacant posts at 9468 as at April, followed by KwaZulu-Natal with 7058 vacancies, Free State 6012 and Western Cape 2560.

The category of professional nurses was leading the pack with 13068 vacancies during the period, followed by health-associated sciences and support personnel with 6739 posts and medical sciences and support personnel with 4872.

The vacancies for staff nurses stood at 3122 while nursing assistants were 2753 and emergency service and related personnel had 2071 vacancies.

Of the 9610 administration-related vacancies, Phaahla said there were 4236 vacancies in management and general support as well as 3356 administrative line personnel.

Human resources has vacancies totalling 516 and artisans and support personnel 722 across the provinces.

Phaahla said even though there was a systematic process of approving funding and advertisements of posts by heads of departments, a further consultation with the Provincial Treasuries superseded filling of vacant posts to avoid exceeding cost of employment budgets.

“It is therefore not possible to mention a specific date.”

Cape Times