KZN medical staff scarce
The KwaZulu-Natal Health Department is struggling to fill about 2 700 vacant posts for doctors, leaving hospitals with a dire shortage of general practitioners and specialists.
Less training, poor working conditions, doctors moving into private practice, poor hospital maintenance, meagre pay and the loss of doctors to other countries are among the reasons cited by the department for the problem.
The shortage of 2 733 doctors, including specialists such as paediatricians, neurologists, oncologists and gynaecologists, has placed strain on the 3 000 doctors in service at the 71 public hospitals in the province.
The scarcity of medical officers in KZN was raised by ACDP MPL Jo Ann Downs at the legislature’s health committee last month.
One of the busiest provincial hospitals, Edendale Hospital in Pietermaritzburg, appeared to be the hardest hit, with a shortage of 99 doctors and 80 specialists. Umlazi’s Prince Mshiyeni Memorial Hospital has 72 vacant posts for doctors and 74 for specialists.
“People have to wait for doctors for over six weeks. Sometimes the few doctors available have to work between three hospitals and spend less time with patients,” said Downs of the shortages.
She said her main concern was that the government was putting together a “very complicated” National Health Insurance policy, yet there was a dire scarcity of doctors.
“It takes about seven years to train a doctor, and if it means that we have to wait that long (for doctors to qualify), then we are in trouble. The other thing that the government needs to look at is why doctors are leaving the country. The Health Department needs to ensure that we find ways to keep our doctors in the country.”
Health department spokesman Chris Maxon said they had noticed that many doctors did not want to further their training and qualify as specialists. “There are opportunities for doctors to train further… but there seems to be a stagnation in this area.”
Maxon said that another reason for the shortage of health professionals was that universities were not accepting a lot of medical students, prompting Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi to call for more students to be enrolled.
Dr Edward Ngwenya, national secretary general of the Junior Doctors’ Association, agreed that the shortage of doctors was because of the small output of trained medical officers from universities.
“The eight medical universities in the country only produce about 200 doctors a year. The input (of students) is usually low, but things get worse at the end of the course as students drop out. Some reasons for this are that students get excluded financially and academically, and lose interest in the process.”
Ngwenya said another problem was that South African doctors were headhunted by other countries such as the UK and Australia. “Because South Africa produces good doctors, other countries are always looking to take our doctors away. Doctors also prefer to work in metropolitan areas, where they can have access to good roads, schools and homes,” he said of the shortages at rural hospitals.
National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union provincial secretary Zola Saphetha said the figure of 2 700 was not a true reflection of the shortage of health professionals in the province.
“The number is higher than that. This is a very scary situation because the figure does not include nurses and other medical support staff, who are also in short supply,” he said. - The Mercury