Unions representing unemployed doctors blast Health Minister for being ‘slow’ to address employment challenges

Health minister Dr Joe Phaahla. Picture: Jacques Naude/African News Agency(ANA)

Health minister Dr Joe Phaahla. Picture: Jacques Naude/African News Agency(ANA)

Published Feb 6, 2024


Unions representing unemployed doctors and health-care workers have blasted Health Minister Dr Joe Phaahla for waiting for a “public outcry” before seeking a solution on scores of qualified doctors waiting to serve in public facilities.

The criticism against the health minister came following his assurance to review their approach on employing medical doctors and specialists, in the wake of mounting concerns over the rising numbers of unemployed doctors in the country.

Speaking at a briefing in Hatfield, Pretoria yesterday the health minister said his department would review the current dispensation of the employment of doctors to establish whether there were areas where existing funds could be reassigned to enable the employment of more health professionals.

Phaahla added that they would also appeal to the Minister of Finance to assist with better budget allocations.

The update came after unions representing health-care professionals such as the South African Medical Association Trade Union (Samatu) reported that as many as over 800 qualified doctors remained unemployed following the completion of their medical internship and community service.

In addressing the concerns raised by the union, Phaahla explained that according to their Personal and Salary System (Persal) it was found that of the 825 doctors listed to be unemployed, 694 had only completed their community service on December 31, 2023.

Most of which he said had already applied for medical officer posts in various provinces.

With some of the remaining doctors, the health minister said they still needed to complete their community service obligations.

Even with the backlash of unemployed doctors and shortages of health-care workers in public health facilities, Phaahla insisted that the employment of health professionals was on a steady increase.

This as the minister detailed that despite funding constraints over the past five years from 2018 to 2024, as many as 14 667 medical interns were appointed, with 9010 community service workers between 2020 up to 2024.

“It is the wish of the government and especially the Department of Health to employ as many health professionals as possible to play a meaningful role in the public health system of the country.”

“The issue of doctors who wish to stay in the public service employment is of major concern to us as the department, hence we are doing everything possible, working with the provincial health departments to mobilise resources to fund vacant posts, especially for health facilities in underserved communities,” Phaahla reassured.

Despite this nursing union Denosa said they found it abnormal that the government had to wait for a public outcry before seeking to address the matter, especially considering that the newly qualified doctors were known to them.

“It is hugely disappointing and paints a picture of a lack of care on the side of the government. Why would the government lose track of the professionals who have been produced by the government,” said union spokesperson Sibongiseni Delihlazo.

This as he questioned why they had to first obtain a list of over 690 professionals from complaining parties.

“We hope at some point this area of not taking responsibility for absorbing unemployed health-care professionals who have been produced for the country’s public health facilities comes to an end.”

The Star