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Delays in intern placements worsen critical shortage of medical professionals

The SA Medical Association says the doctor-to-patient ratio is widening every year. File photo.
The SA Medical Association says the doctor-to-patient ratio is widening every year. File photo.

The critical shortage of medical professionals is worsened by delays to intern placements nationally.

Dr Edward Ngwenya of the SA Medical Association (Sama) said the issue is an annual problem affecting the entire country.

The shortage of healthcare professionals came under scrutiny during a parliamentary debate last month. It was revealed SA has less than 1 doctor per 1,000 patients.

“This is deplorable,” Ngwenya said, adding that the doctor-to-patient ratio is widening every year.

“It was also noted there are vacant posts in all nine provinces that have not been filled.”

Sama said the Covid-19 pandemic affected not only the general population but more intensely health professionals, who were at the forefront fighting the disease.

“More than 1,000 healthcare workers, some of whom were doctors, were lost due to the pandemic.

“Sama also notes medical skills have been removed from the department of home affairs’ critical skills list which details skills in short supply for work visas or permanent residency,” Ngwenya said.

He said as part of the national state of disaster, government and the national department of health should have used the opportunity to step up efforts to fill vacant posts and employ mitigating plans. He said not enough was done in this regard.

“Sama noted that the critical shortage of doctors creates a burden on practising doctors as they are stretched to the limit, and are open to attacks and harassment. This does not bode well for their physical and mental state.

When you look at the differences between the public and private sectors, it becomes concerning
Dr Katlego Mothudi from the Board of Healthcare Funders

“Sama recommends speedy action in the implementation of plans at provincial and national level.”

Speaking to eNCA’s Tumelo Mothotoane on Wednesday, Dr Katlego Mothudi from the Board of Healthcare Funders said to ensure adequate healthcare provision, there is a need to look at the supply of the healthcare workforce and the maintenance of the health sector.

“The reasons for the deficit are varied. It is important to review health workforce provision because we are talking about reforming the entire healthcare sector under universal health coverage,” he said.

Mothudi said the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that when you consider the quality of healthcare services, you should look at the six pillars, one of which is the workforce.

He said the deficit is a global issue and not peculiar to SA or Africa, but the projections drawn from home and from the WHO were concerning.

“By 2030 the deficit may be reducing in some countries, but in SA and Africa it will be increasing. It is important to look at the supply side and maintenance of the health sector to make sure we have adequate healthcare service provision,” he said.

According to the “2030 Human Resources for Health Strategy” report, it was predicted there would be a shortage of about 34,000 registered nurses by 2025 if urgent action is not taken.

Mothudi said when looking at contributing dynamics, one could argue the population is increasing at a faster pace than the training of healthcare personnel, while there are also ageing healthcare employees.

“We have to look at policies that affect the sector from all areas. Do we have a good pipeline from high school in terms of vocational guidance, the quality of pupils coming through. Are we focusing on mathematics and healthcare-related subjects?” he asked.

He said the health workforce is a labour issue and countries must ensure qualified personnel are employed, happy where they are and [feel] empowered.

“When you look at the differences between the public and private sectors, it becomes concerning. We have to look at broader policies from a leadership perspective, how we prepare people from an early age into the sector and maintain them.

“The issues are also economic. Global migration is an issue and healthcare professionals are drawn to other countries where they are treated better.”


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