Northern Cape’s only tertiary hospital is facing shortage of medical officers

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  • The Northern Cape’s only tertiary hospital has lost many of its medical officers this year
  • The provincial health department has, however, not filled the vacancies
  • The hospital may now not be able to host intern doctors

The Northern Cape’s only tertiary hospital, Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe Hospital (RMSH), has lost at least 34 medical officers (MOs) this year, according to the head of surgery Dr Ahmed Bhyat.

“We know that in RMSH doctors will serve as MOs for three years, and then they move on to Registrar posts. However, during the year, the department did not fill a single post,” Bhyat explains.

Northern Cape Health department keeping mum

Bhyat says that doctors at the hospital have made several attempts to get a response from the provincial health department, but that their efforts were met with empty promises.

“According to HR, all the vacant posts would have been filled. We approved a number of the applicants, and they said to us that within two weeks we'd know for sure who's going to be appointed.

"Today, we've had no communication from HR – nothing. We've communicated with the HOD. We've communicated with the MEC. We've communicated with the premier. It’s just promises, promises, promises, but nothing in writing,” he says.

Last week, senior doctors held a protest at the hospital to make the public aware of the dilemma the hospital is facing.

Health24 reached out to the department, but there was no response to the query.

The impact on new doctors

Bhyat says that the shortage of MOs at the hospital compromises the future of new doctors. He says that without the right number of MOs in the hospital, the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) will not allow intern doctors to do their internship at the hospital.

“We’ve got 84 interns, and something like 48 community service doctors. Without MOs, the HPCSA is going to withdraw the interns, because one of the prerequisites for internship training is that a hospital should have a backbone of medical officers. So that's where we stand now.

"I don't know how we're going to provide a service for the public in the Northern Cape. We are the only hospital that provides tertiary care in the Northern Cape,” Bhyat explains.

He says that his department has been severely compromised too.

“I am the head of surgery. I have about 14 MOs, but at the moment I've only got two permanent MOs. The others want to remain, but are not given any jobs. So how do I run my department with two MOs? I've got about 100 beds. It's impossible,” he says.

Growing frustrations

Bhyat says that with the climbing numbers of Covid-19 in the province, doctors are starting to feel the pinch.

“The physician in charge of Internal Medicine told us that the numbers are rising. If she doesn't have doctors by the end of December, she's going to resign. It's going to be a disaster,” he says.

Bhyat says if doctors are not appointed by 31 December, the understaffing issues of the hospital will deepen.

UPDATE: Health24 received confirmation from Dr Bhayt that the department has appointed MOs on Thursday morning.

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