Court battle looms over junior doctors placements

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Doctors collected samples of Covid-19 coronavirus.
Doctors collected samples of Covid-19 coronavirus.
Rehman Asad, NurPhoto via Getty Images
  • A letter of demand last week gave the Department of Health until Monday to start the placement process. 
  • The Department of Health blamed the placement delay on funding shortfalls and consultations about additional posts with National Treasury and provincial health departments.
  • Department spokesperson Popo Maja said the consultation process with National Treasury is still ongoing and they are trying to source additional funding for 155 accredited posts.

A court battle between the Department of Health and over 300 unplaced medical interns is looming.

This after the department was served with a letter of demand on Thursday, giving them until Monday to provide community service placements. 

The letter, sent by Mabuza Attorneys, was on behalf of 465 doctors.

Of this total, 298 are qualified medical doctors. Six of these are foreign nationals, and 292 are South African.

The second group is made up of 167 community service doctors.

"To date, the Department has failed to place our clients in violation of their rights in terms of sections 22 and 33 of the Constitution. What is of grave concern is that the failure of the Department not only violates our clients' rights but that the cost is to be paid by the public that relies on the public health care system," the letter stated. 

READ MORE | SA battling Covid-19 third wave, but junior doctors are still waiting to be placed

The letter also said the placement of medical interns had caused severe prejudice in that they are, ''... unable to look after themselves and their families, and they are also unable to service their student debts/loan".

"Our clients were meant to commence their internship and community service today, 1 July 2021. However, to date, the Department has failed to place them. To that end, we are instructed to demand, as we hereby do, that all our clients be placed no later than 16:00 on Monday, 5 July 2021. Failing which, we hold instructions to seek urgent relief against the Department and its officials, including an order for punitive costs."

The letter of demand follows after the Department of Health blamed the delay on funding shortfalls and consultations about additional posts with National Treasury and provincial health departments. It promised to provide updates on the outcome of the consultations.

As the country buckles under the pressure of the third wave of Covid-19 infections, the timing of the issue could not be worse.

READ ALSO | Junior doctors losing patience as more delays mar placements at public health facilities

Attorney Matthew Yeko, who is spearheading the litigation, told News24 they had heard nothing from the Department since the letter was sent.

Yeko added:

This is a legitimate cause; we need to fight for these students and fight for their human rights. Our next step would be to proceed with court action. We don't want to create a situation where we want to go to court, but the health professional act makes provision for the Department to ensure the medical interns are placed.

The department's spokesperson Popo Maja said the consultation process with National Treasury and provincial health departments is still ongoing and they are trying to source additional funding for 155 accredited posts.

"The department acknowledges the frustration expressed by the medical graduates and appeals for patience. The regular public updates and notifications with the affected students will be maintained as the consultation process unfolds to keep everyone abreast of the developments."

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