Durban - At a time when South Africa's hospitals are faced with critical staff shortages which impact on the health-care system, some intern and community service doctors remain unemployed.

In KwaZulu-Natal, the South African Medical Association (Sama) has confirmed that it is trying to assist more than 40 doctors who have yet to be placed at local hospitals. Sama vice-chairperson Dr Mark Sonderup confirmed that there was still a “substantial” number of doctors who remained unemployed.

“It doesn't make sense that government invests in educating doctors and then they cannot help them to progress. This is unacceptable. Senior leadership in the country needs to step in now and address this as a matter of urgency,” said Sonderup.

He said the national Department of Health was of the view that South African doctors who trained in the country should be given first preference.

“We understand this, but it is our view that there should be no problems with regards to placing other folks, such as those who have been naturalised,” said Sonderup.

The national Department of Health's Gavin Steel, who handles doctor intern and community service placements, said preference was given to South African students who studied at a South African university. He said there were two doctor intake cycles annually, in January and July.

“In terms of these cycles for this year, everyone who was eligible and needed to be placed has been placed. I cannot really comment on the 40 students mentioned by Sama KZN as I have not seen this list,” he said.

Steel said one of the challenges the department faced with regard to community service doctor placements was that many doctors did not want to accept the posts they were offered.