No intake at UKZN med school

2014-06-24 00:00

THERE will be no mid-year intake of registrars to the University of KwaZulu-Natal medical school, dealing another blow to provincial health care services.

The move follows the reduced intake in January and further endangers the future and status of the University of KwaZulu-Natal medical school.

The reduction of registrars in January and the cancellation of the July intake will further reduce the number of doctors available in the public sector.

Already natural attrition has reduced registrar numbers further.

The cancelled intake will lead to specialists being pulled back from what are perceived as less critical areas of health service provision to concentrate on areas of acute need.

It will also mean that fewer specialist doctors will be trained in the province, which is already experiencing a shortage of specialists.

Last year, a memorandum dated November 29 was sent out by Priyaneshree Maharaj, manager of corporate governance at the provincial Health Department, to the heads of various disciplines at the UKZN medical school informing them of a reduction in the intake of registrars in January.

This reduced the intake number of registrars from 93 to 40.

Twenty disciplines were affected by the reduced intake, including anaesthetics, cardiothoracic surgery, family medicine, general surgery, obstetrics and gynaecology, oncology, paediatrics and psychiatry. The largest reduction was in general surgery from 16 to four, followed by paediatrics from 11 to six and psychiatry from four to one.

The memorandum said the reduced intake was necessary in “accordance with the available financial resources”.

“This revised/reduced intake impacts on the department’s overall ability to remain within budget and an exercise in reprioritisation will be done to accommodate this intake.”

That exercise is understood to have taken place in May.

There is usually another intake of registrars in July, but Maharaj’s November memorandum flagged the possibility that no intake would occur in July this year.

Earlier, in March, a Health Department spokesperson acknowledged the reduced intake in January was due to “budgetary constraints”.

The spokesperson told The Witness the “reduced intake in January 2014” was “not a permanent feature”. At that stage, a decision on the July intake had not been taken.

At that time, the total number of registrars in training was 562.

The reduced registrar numbers will also impact on training, which in turn will bring into question the accreditation of post-graduate courses.

In March, The Witness reported that the quality of training at the UKZN medical school had become severely compromised, to the point that the accreditation of degree programmes by the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) were in jeopardy. Academics at the school feared that when the HPCSA undertakes a routine accreditation review in August and discovers the situation, it could lead to a withdrawal of accreditation.

The medical school has already taken strain due to the breakdown of the Joint Medical Establishment relationship that saw the Health Department fund undergraduate and post- graduate programmes at the school. This led to the freezing of posts — numbered at over 300, either vacant or frozen — which included heads of department. This also puts undergraduate programmes in danger of losing their accreditation. However this situation could be remedied as a recent public advertisement called for applications for posts at the medical school. The closing date for applications was June 13.

Both the Department of Health, asked for comment two weeks ago, and the medical school had not responded by the time of going to press.

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