Durban - Nearly 10 000 “critical” posts in the KwaZulu-Natal health department remain vacant in a province where the public health sector is crippled by understaffing.According to a parliamentary response to questions posed by the DA, there are currently 9 783 critical post vacancies at hospitals and clinics in the province.The DA’s Dr Imran Keeka said the vacancies, and the seeming unwillingness of the department to expedite appointments, did not auger well for the patients in state hospitals and clinics.“These figures paint a very worrying picture, from management level to nursing assistants, which can only be impacting negatively on patients,” he said.The following figures for vacant posts were revealed in the reply:- EMRS - 223- Medical officer - 295- Nurse assistant - 626- Nurse professional - 1 839- Nurse staff - 729- Nursing manager - 259Also revealed in the reply was the number of applications received for the vacant positions, some numbering in the thousands. “Certainly there is no lack of interest,” Keeka chided.The following figures were revealed in the reply: - 1 121 applications for 295 medical officer posts- 14 543 applications for 729 nursing staff posts- 723 applications for 88 pharmacist assistant posts- 116 applications for 14 dentist posts“Theoretically, these positions could be filled overnight, alleviating much of the suffering and frustration experienced by patients reliant on state health care,” Keeka added.“Added to the province’s woes is the reduced intake of medical registrars being trained in the province, halved from approximately 90 to just 43. "While the effects of this change may not be immediately noticeable for patients attending provincial hospitals, the medium to long term implications are serious,” he said.“The DoH [Department of Health] has cited budget constraints as the reason for the many vacant posts. While it is clear that something has to give when there are budget pressures, critical posts cannot be the casualty.“We expect [Health] MEC Sibongiseni Dhlomo and his officials to look again at the hard options and cut expenses elsewhere. Limping along with so many critical post vacancies is not an acceptable solution. "