Motsoaledi fumes at hospital crisis

2012-08-18 17:12

There is a severe shortage of specialists, with scores of positions vacant

Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi has lashed out at the Gauteng health department for failing to prevent the current crisis at Charlotte Maxeke Academic Hospital.

The hospital is facing a severe shortage of medical specialists, with scores of positions vacant.

The Times reported this week that this situation had left doctors in situations where they had to choose which patients to save first.

The minister said: “This is not supposed to be happening.

“Doctors should not be forced to choose which patient receives treatment first just because there aren’t enough staff to care for patients,” he said.

Dr Poppy Ramathuba, the chairperson of the public sector doctors’ division at the South African Medical Association, agreed.

However, she said: “At times doctors don’t have a choice. Doctors are thrown into the deep end in the public-health sector.

“They are forced to save lives without the necessary equipment and medicine and on top of that they have to deal with bad attitudes from hospital managers who have no medical background.”

Motsoaledi blamed the provincial department’s poor financial planning for the crisis at Charlotte Maxeke.

He said: “It is unacceptable for a tertiary hospital to have so many unfilled critical positions. The provincial department must sort this out.”

The crisis is a reflection of what is happening in all South African public hospitals.

According to statistics from the Health Professions Council of South Africa, 37 333 health practitioners were registered in South Africa last year. Just more than 12 000 of those were specialists.

The council could not provide statistics on how many doctors were working in the public and private sectors.

The most recent report on human resources in the department of health, released last year, showed that in 2009 only 3 782 were working in the public sector.

A total of 5 299 were in the private sector, and it was not known whether the remainder had stopped practising or were working abroad.

Council registrar Dr Buyiswa Mjamba-Matshoba said it was difficult to say how many practitioners left the country each year.

“Some practitioners are still registered with the [council] although they are practising overseas and have elected to have dual registration,” she said.

Studies have shown that doctors were leaving South Africa in droves because of the poor working conditions and low salaries.

Research has also shown that the public sector was the hardest hit by this trend.

Motsoaledi acknowledged that there were huge “challenges” in the public sector, but said government was trying to address these.

Asked about hospital managers with no medical background, Motsoaledi said: “We have advertised positions for chief executives for all tertiary hospitals.

“We made it a requirement that any person who wishes to apply for the job must have a health degree and five years’ experience in management.”

He said more than 3 000 applications were received and five provinces had already shortlisted staff.

But Ramathuba said government was not acting quickly enough.

“Doctors are fed up. Unless working conditions change and more people are hired, doctors will continue to leave the public sector in numbers.

“We are already facing a severe shortage and if the few that remain in the government hospitals leave, the health system will collapse,” she said.

Motsoaledi said there were plans to retain, attract and train more doctors in South Africa.

The grand plan includes opening a new medical university in Limpopo, increasing the number of doctors that are trained and revitalising hospitals.

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