Note to editors: Please find attached soundbite by Michele Clarke MP.
It is shocking that more than 1 000 doctors were forced to take to the streets today in order to try and remedy the critical shortage of doctors in South African hospitals.
Last year, the Minister of Health, Dr Joe Phaahla, revealed a vacancy for 1 339 doctors in the public health sector, as well as 10 831 vacancies for nurses. In December, the South African Medical Association Trade Union (Samatu) said that at least 225 post-community service doctors had yet to find employment.
Since it has become crystal clear that the ANC government is either unwilling or incapable of addressing this critical shortage, the DA has taken matters into our own hands. We will be bringing a Private Members Bill (PMB) before Parliament to change the way medical students and doctors are placed for the internships and community service years.
The placement of community service doctors has never run smoothly. Every year, scores of doctors are left in limbo by the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) putting 8 years of hard work in jeopardy.
And the issue stretches further than the chaotic placement of community service doctors. Last year 94 doctors who qualified at foreign universities, sued the HPCSA for seemingly hindering their registration to enable medical practice in South Africa. The Council also failed to provide the doctors who wrote the board examinations with exam scripts and marking memoranda, despite being ordered by the Public Protector after an investigation.
It is unfathomable that the ANC government refuses to address the country’s doctor shortage (0.31 doctors per 1 000 patients), especially given the large number of qualified doctors that seek employment.
In an interview last year Dr Nicholas Crisp, the deputy director-general for the Department of Health (DoH) responsible for the implementation of the National Health Insurance (NHI) Bill, blamed the failure to fill posts on the annual decrease of budgets and the rising cost of employment. Yet the 2021/22 annual report revealed that R42 655 000 of the Department’s dwindling budget was spent on just 44 NHI posts.
And to this day, the Department has failed to provide an NHI financing plan. To add insult to injury, the Minister and Dr Crisp have not managed to come to an agreement on how the NHI would be funded with everything from introducing additional taxes, possible increases in value-added tax (VAT), changes to general taxation, adding a payroll tax to the reallocation of funds being touted.
Today’s march has illustrated the Department of Health’s clear disdain for South Africa’s medical professionals and the people they serve. Instead of prioritising front line health care by capacitating the public health system, the ANC government is wasting money on an ill-conceived idea that will inevitably fail and erode the little that’s left of the country’s health care.
It is time the NHI was scrapped entirely, and the money reprioritised to employ nurses and doctors.