The Health and Allied Workers Indaba Trade Union (HAITU) has slammed the National Department of Health, accusing it of misleading the public about the reasons behind the unemployment crisis among doctors in South Africa.
According to HAITU, recent statements by Health Minister Dr Joe Phaahla expose the government's inability to employ doctors due to financial constraints, contradicting earlier claims that unemployed doctors were refusing positions in rural areas.
During a press conference on Monday, Phaahla acknowledged the financial dilemmas facing the government, which has resulted in the unemployment of nearly 700 doctors - despite the severe shortages in the health sector.
This admission comes in stark contrast to the department's previous assertions on social media, which blamed the doctors themselves for the employment shortfall, suggesting a reluctance to work in less desirable, rural locations.
“As HAITU, we are vindicated because we issued a statement to condemn the department for peddling ‘propaganda’ on this issue. Now we have absolute confirmation that the department lied to the public,” said Lerato Mthunzi, HAITU general secretary.
“The health department must be strongly condemned for shamelessly peddling lies and for scapegoating junior doctors and blaming them for their own joblessness. It is frankly a disgrace that in a country like South Africa, where we are in desperate need of qualified doctors in our public healthcare facilities, we are unable to provide newly qualified doctors with the necessary training that is needed to allow them to continue to serve the public and the community at large,” she said.
Among other things, the union said that community service policy requires health professionals to complete 12 months community service or 24 months internship through remunerative work in the public sector. This programme covers different categories of healthcare workers, including dentists, audiologists, professional nurses, dieticians, occupational therapists and pharmacists.
“HAITU has been consistent about condemning the mindless macro-economic policies which this ANC government has implemented for 30 years. They are currently implementing austerity measures and cutting back on public spending. They are doing this, even if it means that we do not have enough doctors and nurses in our hospitals.
“If patients are dying because of the collapsing healthcare system, the blame sits squarely with this government, which has taken a decision to sacrifice the health and wellbeing of the majority of people, in the name of austerity. This is because our politicians have opted out of the public healthcare system. The suffering that the masses endure because of their foolish decisions, do not affect them, because they have the best medical aid cover, which we pay for as members of the public,” Mthunzi said.
HAITU is calling for an immediate reversal of these austerity measures and an increase in healthcare spending, highlighting the broader societal benefits of a robust public healthcare system.
The union also demands that health officials be required to use the same public healthcare facilities as the general population, to ensure they directly experience the consequences of their policies.
At a press briefing on Monday, Phaahla confirmed that 694 recently qualified doctors had no jobs.
“What I'm saying is that we're not in the best of situations,” Phaahla said about the high number of unemployed doctors.
“We would have preferred a situation where we were able to provide opportunities for everybody who wants to serve in the public service,” he said.
In addressing the unemployment crisis, Phaahla pointed out the active engagements with provincial treasuries and the recent filling of 564 medical officers' posts as part of the efforts to mitigate the problem.
He said the department was actively working with provincial governments to identify and advertise available posts, with 259 positions currently open across various provinces.