Durban - Young doctors who are sitting at home unemployed have expressed their frustration at knowing that overburdened and understaffed state hospitals are struggling to treat patients, as they wait months for the Department of Health to place them in community service posts.
The doctors, who spoke to The Mercury on condition of anonymity for fear of being victimised, said they had been waiting since December to be placed in their community service posts after completing their two-year internships at state facilities.
This is despite posts for at least 13 vacancies for doctors being advertised for state facilities across the country.
Some doctors have had to pack up their belongings and furniture and move back in with their parents while they await a decision.
According to communication the SA Medical Association (Sama) distributed to doctors on February 5, they are among a group of 34 young doctors who are waiting to be placed in community service posts.
The communication states that the doctors had been “unplaced or rejected their posts” and that they would be placed before or during the “April cycle”. There are also five medical interns awaiting placement, according to the communiqué.
Doctors were given until December11 to reject the posts offered if they were located in a province unsuitable to the applicants.
“We got communication from the national Department of Health that there are 34 of us who are unplaced and that they’re waiting for communication from the provinces as to which state hospitals have available posts, and then we’ll be allocated,” one young doctor said.
“We’re not allowed to work anywhere else. I’m fortunate enough to be able to come home to my parents’ house. I don’t have proof of income, so I can’t do anything,” she said.
Another doctor said she had placed her furniture in storage and moved provinces to go home and live with her parents as she had no income.
“The hospitals are so desperate for community service doctors because they’re so understaffed that they asked their current community service doctors to advertise the posts on Facebook,” she said.
She added that she had contacted one of the hospitals to enquire about a vacant post, but management advised her that their hands were tied as she had to be placed by the national Department of Health.
“There is work, and that’s the frustrating part,” she said. She added that she had been advised by department officials that she could wait up to six months to be placed.
Sama interim trade union committee chairperson Dr Akhtar Hussain said the association had been “working very hard” with the department to expedite the placement of young doctors to complete their community service.
He said all of the estimated 2700 domestically qualified South African citizens had been placed in internship posts.
He said some of the doctors had started their internships late for various “technical” reasons and could not be placed last month. However, he said 99% of appointments had been made.
“The department has told us that everyone will be placed. We have no idea how long they will wait. We are pushing them very hard,” Hussain said.
He said the department’s community service intakes usually took place in January and July.
Department of Health spokesperson Popo Maja said that according to its data, all doctors who were South African citizens had been placed.