The National Department of Health (NDoH) has blamed budgetary constraints as the biggest reason South Africa is battling to ensure employment to thousands of young doctors.
Reports indicate that the country has more than 343 young doctors who are sitting at home without a job while the country battles with filling of posts and delivery of health services to an already compromised public health-care sector.
Speaking to Independent Media this week, spokesperson for the national health department Foster Mohale said even though there is no definitive number of how many young doctors are struggling to get placed at various provincial health facilities, funds to ensure posts are filled to capacity were the reason young doctors were out of work.
A young doctor who spoke to Daily Maverick said even though she did well in her studies and her fees were fully paid she was still struggling to find a job.
“I am sitting at home unemployed. But I am not alone. There are currently almost 800 unemployed medical doctors in South Africa, while the people of our country are travelling for two to three hours and sitting in queues for five to six hours waiting to see a doctor,” the young doctor said.
Mohale said, “Funded posts for doctors and other health professionals in provinces are not sufficient due to budgetary constraints across the public sector.
“We wouldn't have exact figures of how many doctors remain unemployed because we don't know how many of them decided to apply for work in the private sector, or opened practices as GPs or even decided to further their studies to become specialists. That's why we asked those with such lists like SAMA and SAMATU to provide us with such lists.”
The South African Medical Association (SAMA) has indicated that government, acting with other stakeholders, is always in constant communication to remedy the situation.
The country’s oldest association in the industry will host its annual SAMA Conference in February 2024: Revitalising Health Care in SA.
The conference to be held under the theme “Towards Strengthening Health Systems” will tackle some of the biggest issues, challenges and opportunities affecting the sector.
Speaking on behalf of SAMA, Irene Bailey said young doctors seeking to start their medical careers are the most affected by the lack of job opportunities.
“Doctors seeking internship and community services posts are receiving prioritised attention from the National Department of Health (NDoH), as confirmed by ongoing communication between the South African Medical Association (SAMA) and the department. The collaborative efforts aim to ensure timely placements for all recently qualified doctors,” Bailey said.
Bailey has indicated that the association, in collaboration with the department, recently hosted a webinar to address doctor unemployment, with recent figures indicating that more than 343 young doctors are sitting at home.
Bailey says one of the reasons for the crisis is that some of the young doctors do not want to be placed in rural areas, and the conditions in some parts of the country are not attractive to them, resulting in the misalignment of opportunities.
“SAMA expresses deep concern over the escalating issue of joblessness among these qualified professionals. The root causes are identified as insufficient planning by the NDoH and a lack of adequate funding from treasury to create posts for these doctors. Despite the doctors’ eagerness to contribute to the public sector, the sector faces challenges in absorbing their skills, contributing to the plight of unemployed doctors.
“However, some don't prefer to work in health facilities based in rural areas, that's why we are sitting with about 50 community service doctors who rejected posts we allocated them outside their preferred areas,“ Bailey said.
Mohale says budget cuts do not only affect the health department alone as all other public sector departments are affected.
“The issue of budget cuts doesn't only affect the health sector, but the public sector at large, and we have to consider and prioritise all essential service workers when we fill the posts because doctors still need to work in a team with nurses and other support staff. But efforts are being made working with the provincial health departments to find budget for unfunded posts, though it's hard to commit if all of them will be accommodated at a go because this is work in progress,” he said.