Shortage has negative effect on health care

By Staff Writer Time of article published Sep 18, 2006

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There is a critical shortage of radiologists and radiological equipment in the Western Cape which is negatively affecting the quality of healthcare services in the public sector and threatening future delivery in the private sector, according to the president of the Radiological Society of South Africa (RSSA), Richard Tuft.

"There are approximately 450 radiologists in South Africa, which is enough to service the private sector, but insufficient for the public sector, which is chronically understaffed and under-equipped," he said.

Tuft was speaking at the biennial International Society of Radiology Congress, which for the first time was held in Africa and ended at the weekend. More than 1 400 participants from 75 countries attended.

Savvas Andronikou, professor of paediatric radiology at the University of Stellenbosch and a consultant radiologist at Tygerberg Hospital, said issues such as poor pay, poor working conditions, poor equipment - as well as related issues such as security - were driving radiologists into private practice. As a result, teaching and research were on the decline. The number of consultants in his department at Tygerberg hospital had halved since 2003.

"The workload burden carried by radiologists impacts negatively on training, affecting the quality of radiologists throughout the industry, as young radiologists move from the public hospitals into private clinics," he said.

In the Western Cape, there were 16 MRI scanners in use in the private practice but only two in the public sector. An MR scanner in the public sector did 2 642 scans a year whereas the MR scanners in the private sector did 1 727 scans a year.

Old CT scanners in provincial public hospitals - which performed nearly four times as many scans a year per machine as in the private sector - took longer to operate than the new multi-detector machines in the private sector which could scan a patient in 30 seconds.

Henry Wanga, head of the Kenyan Radiology Society, said that Kenya had only 80 radiologists to look after its population of 32 million, and 55 of them were based in urban areas, which made it very difficult for the rural poor to obtain treatment.

This was equal to one radiologist for every 400 000 patients, as opposed to a ratio of 1:70 000 as recommended by the World Health Organisation.

Tuft, in his opening ceremony address, called on the government to de-politicise the treatment of HIV/Aids and make use of available outcomes-based Western medicine.

"The RSSA throws its weight behind the efforts of the South African Medical Association and the Treatment Action Campaign in declaring that it is a basic human right for all individuals with HIV to have ready access to anti-retroviral medicines," he said.

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