File picture: Supplied

Durban - The training of KwaZulu-Natal medical students in Cuba faces the chop as the provincial Health Department looks to slash some of the more than R1 billion in overspending expected this financial year.

This emerged at a debate initiated by the NFP in the legislature in Pietermaritzburg on Tuesday.

In his motion, NFP’s Erickson Zungu called for the revisiting of the programme, which he described as unproductive.

“Government needs to invest in increasing the capacity of medical schools throughout the country,” Zungu said.

However, during the debate some MPLs suggested the programme had been scrapped after an announcement by the department at a recent meeting of the finance portfolio committee.

Health Department spokesman, Sam Mkhwanazi, did not confirm this but asked that questions be e-mailed to him last night.

However, finance portfolio committee chairman, Sipho “KK” Nkosi, confirmed there was “something like the reviewing” of the department’s programmes.

Nkosi said the department had informed the committee of plans to review several programmes, including the student doctors programme.

He traced the review of the departmental programmes to last year when the department had initially projected to overspend by R1.4bn.

“Provincial Treasury said there was no money to bail them out so they had to find a way not to overspend. The department reduced the overspend to R1.1bn by the time we met them a week go,” he said.

According to Nkosi, the Health Department came to the committee meeting with budgetary items earmarked for review. “One of them was to review the Cuban doctor programme. There is no decision taken as yet,” he said.

The financial difficulties faced by the Cuban training programme were exacerbated by the declining rand-dollar exchange rate.

Nkosi also said part of the projected overspend for 2016/17 was expected to be overtime payments to doctors, medico-legal claims and National Health Laboratory Service accruals, among others.

“Now there is R1.1bn overspend in this current financial year. What is important is that when they quantify, they must tighten and not affect service delivery,” he said.

Nkosi’s explanation of the Health Department’s overspend is corroborated by a report the department presented to the health portfolio committee meeting last month.

The report had put the overspend in this financial year at R1.5bn. According to the report, the exchange rate effect on the Cuban doctors programme was R55.5 million.

Meanwhile, the NFP said the programme was a waste of taxpayers’ money.

“We have the best medical schools,” Zungu said.

The DA’s Imram Keeka agreed the doctors’ programme was proving expensive. “There is no money to sustain it.”

However, Transport, Community Safety and Liaison MEC Mxolisi Kaunda said the programme was “well-thought” and here to stay.

He said KZN had 789 medical students in Cuba and 85 qualified doctors through this programme.

“We must persuade this honourable House to increase the budget for this programme so that the MEC for Health can recruit more students. This will undoubtedly reduce the doctor-patient ratio in the province,” Kaunda said.

The overspend in the Health Department is projected at R1.5 billion in the 2016-17 financial year, according to the department’s report to the legislature.

The report was tabled to the portfolio committee on health last month.

It listed R55.5 million in the bursary payments for the Cuban doctors programme as one for the “pressure areas”.

Others are the R715.3m in above-budget wage agreement and pay progression, R162.2m in buildings and accruals, R76.4m in property-related payments, R159.3m in medico-legal claims, R58.3m in NHLS accruals and R155m with the effect of the weakening rand on medicine and medical supplies.

There is also R31.2m for mobile hospital units, R26.9m in outsourced service accruals for medical waste and patient nutrition, R11.3m for resuscitation equipment at community health centres and R10.9m for medical equipment for clinics.

The Mercury