Bitter pill for junior doctors

2018-01-07 06:03
Aaron Motsoaledi

Aaron Motsoaledi

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Junior doctors have blamed government’s lack of planning for the emotional roller coaster they faced about starting their compulsory community service this month.

Although most South African-born junior doctors have been placed in a public hospital, albeit with complications, the future remains unclear for foreign graduates with permanent residency in South Africa.

About 300 of the 1 900 final year medical students who registered for 1 400 available posts were still without jobs two months before they were meant to start their internship.

However, Farah Jawitz of the Junior Doctors’ Association of SA (Judasa) said that most graduates had been placed and started their duties this week. She could not give a final figure of those still unplaced by Friday.

The plight of medical graduates came to a head last month, just weeks before they were meant to begin their community service.

The issue stemmed from a lack of funded posts and insufficient accredited hospitals to host and train the medical graduates.

This raised the ire of Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi, who cracked the whip and even threatened to sue the Gauteng, Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal provinces for dragging their feet.

He blamed their lack of foresight and planning for the shortage of junior doctors’ posts.

The graduates had studied for six years and needed to complete two years of community service before they could qualify as independent medical practitioners.

The national health department oversees the process, but it depends on the provinces who run hospitals to create and fund the posts.

“The small number of South African doctors who haven’t been placed yet are as a result of administrative errors and miscommunication,” Jawitz told City Press.

Although the deficit appeared large, Jawitz said previously that most of the unplaced applicants were, according to the health department, foreign graduates hoping to join the South African workforce.

Last month, there were only 28 foreign students with permanent South African residency who had not yet been placed.

“We are concerned about the permanent residents and foreign graduates also looking to be placed. They were aware from the beginning that the placements of South African graduates would be prioritised.

"But in some cases, some permanent resident doctors who had been placed were unplaced to give the position to locals. It was traumatic for them,” she said.

Meanwhile, some excited junior doctors reported for work at Helen Joseph Hospital, in Johannesburg, on January 1.

"They do not deserve this"

According to a parent who spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing his daughter would be victimised, they were shocked to learn when they arrived that there wasn’t anywhere for the interns to stay.

“They were called in for orientation last week Friday. Some came in from as far as KwaZulu-Natal, only to be told there was no accommodation for them.

"They were told that those who completed their internships had not yet vacated their rooms and that the new juniors must confront the seniors and tell them they need the rooms,” the father said.

Gauteng health department spokesperson Popo Maja said: “It’s unacceptable that any intern was told to evacuate seniors and hospital management was investigating the matter.”

Another parent posted on Judasa’s Facebook page: “Yes, they got placed at hospitals, but those hospitals do not have available positions. My daughter was one of many at Pelonomi Hospital today, [who] after receiving offers, was told they do not have positions (maybe in February).

"Nobody answers phones or emails. She has been trying all day. They have worked so hard for six years and they do not deserve this.”

National health department spokesperson Popo Maja acknowledged there were “challenges”.

In addition, they were dealing with appeals from some graduates who were “unhappy” with the public hospitals at which they had been placed.

He said that in cases where the hospitals had vacancies but did not have accreditation to train doctors, the Health Professions Council of SA reviewed the accredited posts.

“Where it was not possible to accommodate the persons, they were allocated to other hospitals in the province.”

Maja added that permanent resident applicants would be placed this month.

“We plan to overhaul the system and start much earlier, so that placements happen by the third quarter of 2018. We are following up with all provinces on placements and will be visiting provinces to resolve issues.”

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