Picture: Phill Magakoe
Picture: Phill Magakoe

Doctors must show up or pay up

By Laea Medley Time of article published Jan 11, 2012

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Eighty-seven newly qualified doctors from the Eastern Cape could soon be blacklisted until their tuition fees have been paid back in full to the province’s health department.

According to the department, the 87 doctors went back on their promise to serve in the province’s public health facilities, and they are now required to repay the money spent educating them.

“Up to R387 000 has been spent on putting these doctors through university,” said the department’s spokesman, Sizwe Kupelo.

The students were given bursaries in exchange for them completing their community service year in understaffed hospitals in the Eastern Cape’s rural areas.

The KwaZulu-Natal Health Department has said it has no such problem. The KZN department’s spokesman, Chris Maxon, said 425 people had been registered in the province to complete their community service year, and so far, there had been no reports of any of them not showing up for duty.

Medical students in South Africa are required to study for six years, followed by a one year internship at a teaching hospital, and one year of community service.

Dr Norman Mabasa, a spokesman for the South African Medical Association, said 80 percent of the medical students in the country were on some kind of loan from the government – which cost up to R250 million a year. “Sama supports the funding of students, as many people cannot afford to go to medical school,” he said.

Mabasa said the Eastern Cape was experiencing this problem as there were few incentives to work in rural areas. “Many of these newly qualified doctors come from rural areas in the Eastern Cape, and they are given bursaries to study in places like Wits, UCT, and UKZN,” he said.

“The problem comes when they don’t want to return to the Eastern Cape. It is an under-resourced province, and these doctors would rather work in other provinces.”

Kupelo said even though the province’s hospitals were understaffed, the department would tackle the challenge head-on. “The measures put in place will persuade the bursary professionals to remain in the province,” he said.

Repercussions for medical practitioners who break their agreement include using legal means to force them to pay back their fees, blacklisting them until the money is paid, and deregistration from the Health Professions Council of South Africa.

Mabasa agreed with the Eastern Cape’s Health Department, saying all doctors had a duty to fulfil their agreements and meet their part of the bargain.

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