Medical interns in limbo as department misses statutory placement deadline

Umlazi's Prince Mshiyeni Hospital. Picture: Khaya Ngwenya

Umlazi's Prince Mshiyeni Hospital. Picture: Khaya Ngwenya

Published Jun 15, 2023


Johannesburg - A group of medical interns has been left hanging and uncertain about their future after the national and provincial Departments of Health missed their deadline for statutory community service placements.

This comes after the department was not able to provide feedback on the placement of the interns, including doctors and trainee pharmacists, by the midyear application cycle deadline of Tuesday.

According to Dr Thozama Bosman, more than 200 trainee doctors who had applied through the department’s online Internship and Community Service Programme (ICSP) application portal were yet to be informed of their placements in communities across the country.

“I am a 2nd-year intern at Klerksdorp awaiting community service placement. I have to start on July 1, two weeks from now. I represent a group of interns in the same position as I am, who have not been placed for the 2023 midyear cycle for community service.

“The National Health Department opened the applications on May 15 and closed the application process on May 28. We had to be placed by June 12. Then the Health Department posted on its ICSP page that we would be placed on June 13. This was yesterday. We were not placed,” Bosman said.

She added that she had learnt from the WhatsApp status of one of the provincial co-ordinators that applicants would only be placed when provincial placements were made.

“We don’t know what that means. We don’t know when it will happen. But now we’re in limbo about when it will happen to us as we await feedback from the department."

She said trainee doctors were not the only interns affected, as this affected pharmacists and other young professionals in the field.

“We do not understand what’s going on, and we’re worried that we are going to go through what we went through in 2021, where we had to seek legal representation after we were told that there were no funds to facilitate our placements,” she said.

Another trainee medical doctor, who declined to be named, said as someone awaiting placement, she was frustrated, saying: “Without completing community service, doctors are not allowed to practise at all, as per the HPCSA rules. The onus is on the HPCSA to allocate us to facilities so that we may complete our community service.”

She added that most trainee medical doctors submitted their applications last year.

“Many of us finished our internship in March and submitted applications last year already for community service. When allocations were released, we were told that ours were still being processed (sometime in September last year), and that was the last we heard from them. They have not communicated directly with us; all our information we get from other doctors who have phoned provincial co-ordinators or NDoH people,” she said.

The South African Medical Association (SAMA) said it was not aware of the delay in the confirmation of the placement of trainee medical officers, but would investigate the matter.

Spokesperson for the National Department of Health, Foster Mohale, said: “The department has released results to provinces on Tuesday, June 13 and obviously it may take them a few days to conclude a process of reaching all applicants. “We are also sending emails from today (Wednesday) and finalising tomorrow (Thursday).”

The Star