A health crisis is looming in many Eastern Cape small towns.

A health crisis is looming in many Eastern Cape small towns following a proposal by the province's health department to slash the number of paid hours for resident doctors at rural hospitals.

Briefing members of Parliament's health portfolio committee on Tuesday, Dordrecht doctor Susan Christiane said the department's plan to reduce “sessions” served by doctors at rural hospitals to 20 hours a week would see many of them quit.

“Come April 1, and Bisho, or the Eastern Cape health department, really and truly introduces this 20-session thing for the rural resident doctor, all of them will be leaving,” she told MPs.

In a document tabled at the briefing, Christiane said that of the rural doctors serving at hospitals in small towns across the north-eastern region of the province, “all but two” had indicated they would go.

The department had been warned about the fact that there would be few doctors left to serve these rural communities.

“We are fighting to re-set this thing... but there's not actually too much insight about this whole problem.”

The shortage of rural doctors was not confined to the Eastern Cape only, but apparent in “many small towns” across the country, Christiane warned.

It is understood the province is “centralising” its management of small rural hospitals on the capital Bisho, and, at the same time, cutting rural resident doctors' session hours from 40 to 20 a week. Many are the only medical practitioners for hundreds of kilometres, and many are on call round the clock.

Christiane labelled the provincial department's decision an insult.

“As all the rural resident doctors have up to this point in time rendered total care to their communities - despite the amount of allotted sessions - for the complete 168 hours of each week, the proposed plan is an insult.”

Christiane also highlighted the massive impact Aids is having on rural communities, and how it was limiting small hospitals' ability to deal with other ailments.

“I would like to emphasise (this)... HIV has so overwhelmed our health system, there's no money for anything else. It's just all concentrated, pneumonia, gastro, coming into our little hospital. We have to treat them, the debilitated people.

“There's no time for orthopaedic problems, there's no money for those kind of things,” she said.

Committee chairman Monwabisi Goqwana said members would examine the documents tabled at the briefing, make recommendations, and take these up with the national department. - Sapa