Johannesburg - A cash crunch has resulted in two provinces letting hundreds of nurses go after training them at a cost running into hundreds of thousands of rand from the public purse.
For the first time in many years, Gauteng and Limpopo won’t absorb nurses who underwent community service in the previous year despite the country grappling with massive staff shortages in the public health sector.
The provinces have informed the nurses it did not have funded posts for them. The provincial departments funded the nurses’ four-year tertiary studies, aiming to use them to address personnel shortages crippling public clinics and hospitals.
In a circular The Star has seen, head of Gauteng Health Department Mkhululi Lukhele said all 2016/17 and 2017/18 community service nurses “appointed additional to the post establishment” should not be kept in service beyond February”.
Lukhele said this cohort should be appointed on a month-to-month contract for January and February.
“All affected nurses should be encouraged to apply for posts with the private sector institutions that were engaged by the department,” said Lukhele.
“Institutions are instructed not to appoint external professional nurses in vacant funded posts.
“Only the nurses that have completed their community service in the Gauteng Department of Health must be considered for appointment in vacant funded posts.
“It must be emphasised that there should not be any community service nurse contracted beyond February 2019 as this special dispensation would have lapsed,” Lukhele added.
The Star has learnt that much to their shock, Gauteng community service nurses were told of this in impromptu meetings last month.
“We were told in December that we have until February to find jobs because there are no posts. Just like that. No one told us anything before,” a nurse at the Rahima Moosa Mother and Child Hospital said.
“They are saying the government doesn’t have money, it doesn’t have funded posts. We’re asking ‘so, where was the money coming from in the past two years?’
“Now we’re told, ‘No, we put you in false posts.’ They are telling us we were in cleaners’ posts. What kind of cleaner earns the same salary as a professional nurse?” she asked.
She said more than 50 nurses at the Rahima Moosa alone faced being without jobs by the end of the next month.
Gauteng Health spokesperson Lesemang Matuka did not respond to emailed queries sent to him by The Star
Limpopo Health MEC Phophi Ramathuba has spoken out publicly about a cash crisis forcing her to release 444 workers who were doing community service.
The figure initially stood at 586 but the Limpopo finance department agreed to fund 142 posts of medical officers.
“To appoint all these professionals, it will cost us an additional R333million per financial year,” Ramathuba said at a press briefing.
“Unfortunately, the provincial treasury advised us that we cannot do so because there’s no additional provision in the provincial purse..."
A visibly emotional Ramathuba said 400 of the personnel they had to let go were former bursary recipients.
“We’ve sent these professionals to school to gain skills based on our needs and now we’re unable to appoint them.”
The Rahima Moosa hospital nurse said services were bound to be hamstrung by the cuts in hospitals and clinics.
She recalled a night last month where only three community service nurses manned a maternity ward of 38 patients.
“There’s no staff. We’re usually assisted by agency staff,” she said.
Nurses' union, Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa (Denosa) threatened to take the KZN Health Department to court over what it said were critical shortages of nurses.
“Nurses often are overworked,” said the union’s Sajida Timol.
“Nurses must take more patients to make up for the lack of staff.”