Vacancies cripple Health

2012-08-31 00:00

KWAZULU-NATAL’S health is in a dire state, according to a report presented by the Health Department on Tuesday.

The report, which was presented at a health portfolio committee meeting, indicates that in addition to the shortage of medical professionals, 18 hospitals in the province also lack chief executive officers.

Unions say the shortages are leading to patients dying, especially at rural facilities where the shortages are acute, while the department says it is finding it difficult to attract medical professionals to these areas, despite offering various incentives.

National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) KZN secretary Zola Saphetha said the shortage of doctors was killing people. “You’ll find one medical practitioner doing the job of three or four people, while people are left to die.”

Department head Sibongile Zungu said staff opted for urban facilities despite being offered rural, scarce skills and other allowances.

Department spokesperson Desmond Motha said money was budgeted for the vacant posts and they had already been advertised, but they were not attracting the people needed. In addition, the country’s eight medical schools were producing 1 400 professionals per year for a population of 54 million people, while losing professionals to the private sector and to other countries.

Zungu told the committee that 233 ambulances were operating in KZN in the 2011/2012 financial year. However, the department had 360 operational ambulances, but not the staff to man them.

SA Medical Association (Sama) branch president Dr Jacob Mphatshwe said SA was not producing enough doctors. He said the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s medical school — the only medical school in the province — received 4 000 applications for the 200 available places in 2012.

Mphatshwe said the scarcity of doctors hit rural areas most because of “demanding” conditions.

“You’ll find a doctor working alone or longer hours, and this results in burnout.”

He said the department lost many doctors to urban areas, for various reasons.

Doctors preferred the urban lifestyle for schooling for their children and accessibility to malls and recreation.

“In rural areas, doctors have to travel long distance just to go to a mall.”

“The 18% incentive therefore doesn’t appease them for the inconvenience.”

He said rural health facilities also lacked specialists and equipment, forcing general practitioners to refer patients to central hospitals, which were then overwhelmed.

Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa (Denosa) KZN secretary Cassim Lekhoathi said there were not enough colleges to train the requisite numbers of nurses.

He said nurses were also leaving the profession in droves because of a lack of safety at the workplace, poor working conditions, poor remuneration, burnout due to high workloads and the lack of proper accommodation, especially in rural areas.

Saphetha said the shortage of doctors was resulting in nurses performing doctors’ duties to try and save patients.

He said resources were not distributed to areas where they were needed most.

“You’ll find a population of 100 000 being serviced by one ambulance,” Saphetha said.

“People are going to die in their homes and on the streets if this situation doesn’t change.”

Nehawu said the department should offer more incentives to attract and retain medical practitioners.

The Health and Other Service Personnel Trade Union of South Africa chairperson, Khulekani Khoza, said doctors were willing to work in rural areas as long as the travelling and accommodation arrangements were in an acceptable state.

The Health Department said interviews for CEOs’ posts were being conducted.

Vacancy rate per district Doctors Pharmacists Professional Nurses Specialists

Ugu 39% 49% 32% 86%

uMgungundlovu 33% 25% 12% 53%

uThugela 56% 62% 25% 79%

uMzinyathi 58% 47% 15% 100%

Amajuba 35% 28% 11% 61%

Zululand 64% 43% 23% 100%

uMkhanyakude 60% 48% 24% 100%

uThungulu 45% 48% 17% 65%

Ilembe 48% 23% 37% 65%

Sisonke 69% 64% 31% 86%

eThekwini 39% 19% 23% 41%

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