Dire shortage of dentists in SA public sector

South African provinces need more medical staff.
South African provinces need more medical staff.

Need braces and live in North West? Best you move.

Despite ongoing official denials that health posts in provinces have been frozen, almost     5 500 public sector positions have been lost over the past four years, according to the SA Health Review 2017.

Lowest ratio in the country

Over 300 medical specialists left in 2015 and 2016 alone, and the Western Cape suffered the greatest loss – 200 specialists. This province was also the only one to lose doctors (down by 63 to 1 500).

While Limpopo only lost 12 specialists in the past year, it means that the province is now down to 68. This translates into 1.3 per 100 000 people, the lowest ratio in the country and way below the country average of 10.

Only one in six registered dentists – a mere 1 118 – works in the public sector. There are fewer than two-and-a-half dentists per 100 000 people in the country. All the citizens of the North West have to share 44 dentists.

The situation is dire when it comes to dental specialists, with only 160 in the public sector in the entire country. This translates into fewer than half a specialist (0.4) per 100 000 people.

Backbone of the public health sector

You can forget about specialised attention for your teeth  if you live in the Eastern Cape and North West, which have zero specialists. Meanwhile, the Free State, KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga and the North West boast one specialist each.

Similarly, psychologists overwhelmingly work in the private sector – only 1 238 out of the 8 415 registered are employed in the public sector. That’s fewer than three per 100 000 people – and one per 100 000 people in KwaZulu-Natal.

Fewer than half of the country’s registered doctors – around 14 000 – work in the public sector. Fewer than half the country’s 140 508 professional nurses (67 766 to be exact) are in the public sector, yet they are the backbone of the public health sector.

* The public sector figures were taken from PERSAL, which is the government pay system, while the overall figures are from the Health Professions Council of SA.

Image credit: iStock

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