Doctors could be forced to stay in SA

By Sipokazi Fokazi Time of article published Feb 24, 2012

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Doctors who study in SA should work in the country for the same number of years they were trained or pay back the amount they were subsidised by the government as a way to keep them from leaving soon after graduation.

This was suggested by Dr Kgosi Letlape, acting registrar and CEO of the Health Professions Council of SA (HPCSA), which says SA is losing more doctors than it produces, with 50 percent of new graduates leaving within the first five years of their career.

Speaking in Parliament on Wednesday, Letlape told MPs that the country was still struggling to retain doctors, with many leaving for greener pastures.

Addressing the portfolio committees on health, and higher education and training, Letlape called for a debate on how the country could retain its doctors, saying the number of physicians leaving was “frightening”.

“We are not even retaining 90 percent of what we produce. We are losing more than we get in terms of our production capabilities. There are a lot of medical doctors that stay registered but are not practising. They go to other fields for more money,” he said.

Letlape said a study done by Africa Health Placements, an organisation that provides public sector health worker recruitment and retention, had shown that about 50 percent of newly graduated doctors were leaving within the first five years. This meant that the country was losing 600 of the 1 200 doctors it was producing every year.

Apart from those that had left to practise abroad, Letlape said, a significant number of medical doctors were ditching their jobs, particularly in the public sector, for administration jobs and other fields that gave them more money, including tendering and even film production.

“This can’t go on like that… it has to stop. Being an assistant to an MEC and carrying a briefcase, you earn far more than a doctor who’s been in practice for more than eight years. We really need to do something to retain our doctors,” he said.

According to the SA Medical Association, about 12 500 doctors are needed to staff the country’s public hospitals. There are about 27 640 doctors practising in SA, but more than 23 000 SA doctors have emigrated.

Letlape said not all doctors left for money. Some left because of dreadful working conditions.

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