Laughter may be the best medicine, and for former Durbanite Suhayl Essa, a community service doctor, it’s the only thing getting him through the tough months without money.
Durban - Laughter may be the best medicine, and for former Durbanite Suhayl Essa, a community service doctor, it’s the only thing getting him through the tough months without money.

Essa, who works at Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital, caused a stir on social media with a video lamenting how the department of health did not pay interns or community service doctors in January.

Essa, who matriculated from Durban High School in 2010, is also a part-time comedian. He said he tried to tackle the issue in a positive and comedic manner in the video, and was not afraid of speaking out and criticising the department. The video has garnered more than 73000 views.

In the video, recorded at the end of last month, Essa is seen lounging on the balcony of a flat, eating a carrot. 

“What a wonderful day it is to receive an e-mail saying yourself and your colleagues as the group of interns and community service doctors of 2019 will not be paid for this month of January! How wonderful it is to study for six years and take out student loans and struggle through it, to find you are not getting paid, it’s so wonderful.”

He then states he has become vegan out of necessity, and that he was “down to his last carrot”.

The video recording is then interrupted by a “call” from his landlord, in which Essa says he couldn’t pay the rent the last time because he did not get paid his overtime money.

“But we said I could live on the balcony. You can’t kick me off the balcony, next month I promise I’ll pay, I’ll stay on the right hand side of the balcony,” he tells the landlord.

He says this is not the first time he had not been paid. Essa said they had not been paid overtime salaries, and were not allowed to claim for more than 120 overtime hours, which he described as “slavery”.

He hadn’t expected the video to do so well, and said he even had people offer him food parcels for the month.

“Fortunately, my work as a comedian adds to my income, but we all have bills to pay. The department has come up with all sorts of excuses.”

Essa said the department informed interns and community service doctors that if they could not afford transport costs to get to work, they could apply for special leave.

“None of us would want to put our workload and burden on another already overworked doctor while we take special leave. How can we let another doctor handle double the amount of patients? The department uses this method, knowing we have a guilty conscience for deserting our patients and adding to the workload of another doctor,” he said.

Essa said doctors were working excessive hours, contravening many labour laws. 

“Our contracts state that we aren’t allowed to claim payment for more than 120 hours, but we are working 180 hours or more a month, sometimes consecutive hours, 30 or 36 hours at a time. We care for our patients, so we do this. They do not deserve to suffer because the department has problems,” he said.

Essa said he hoped someone from the department would see the video and ensure payments were handled efficiently. The department had not responded to requests for comment at the time of publication.

Independent On Saturday