Health workers exodus

2015-11-16 14:14

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Pietermaritzburg - The provincial Health Department is facing an exodus of senior staff and is battling to find replacements.

Despite being short of several thousand nurses and critical specialist positions, the KZN Department of Health is not advertising for any new posts.

Yet about 15% of all critical posts, according to the department’s latest annual report, are vacant.

The largest health sector union Nehawu is now threatening to picket outside the department’s office in Natalia, Pietermaritzburg, with similar action expected at several provincial hospitals.

In just critical positions alone, the 818 positions filled by the Health Department in the last financial year was eclipsed by the leaving of 1 012 professionals.

Out of the 6 200 staff that left the department, more than half (3 486) resigned with insiders blaming unhappiness over working conditions.

A blanket freeze on almost all posts in all departments as ordered by provincial Treasury in September has not helped either.

DA MPL for Health Dr Imran Keeka said he believed that fatigue was a key contributor to pushing staff out of the public medical space.

“The hours are long, it is a stressful occupation and there is often a shortage of medication. The working environment in general is unfavourable,” said Keeka.

He said the loss of nursing staff was of a “particular concern”.

“The thing is at a recent KZN Legislature roadshow we reviewed minutes from between 2010 and 2012 for several hospitals who at those times complained of staff shortages. Still today the situation has not changed,” said Keeka.

In a recent parliamentary reply the KZN Health Department said the total vacancies in the “critical occupation” list stood at 9 783. The posts that fit this criteria cover a wide scope from engineers, oral hygienists to speech therapists and radiographers.

A senior Health official, who could not be named as they are not allowed to speak to the media, said the province’s inability to accommodate professional staff has resulted in them leaving the province and the country. “These are historic lows for employing staff. When staff leave, there will be no replacement.”

However, the department does believe it has a solution, at least in the long term.

A five-year Memorandum of Understanding signed between both the department and the University of KwaZulu-Natal in December 2014, and seen by The Witness, requires the university to increase its intake of students from “disadvantaged communities” into health sciences while creating greater opportunities for students to gain practical experience in the field.

Chief among its target is to “promote” the return of students “to their communities post qualification” as a means of increasing staff numbers in particularly rural areas where vacancies and resignations are often highest.

Phakama Ndunakazi, Nehawu’s provincial secretary, said they have been “fighting this issue with the department for three years”.

“We have evidence that there are at least 11 000 qualified nurses in the province that are currently unemployed. Freezing posts is not going to help anyone but the employer,” said Ndunakazi.

The Health Department referred all comments to Treasury and UKZN.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  health

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