Doctors who need to complete their compulsory internship and community service programmes at public hospitals are without positions — seven months after they should have started.
Nearly 80 doctors nationally continue to struggle to find places at hospitals, according to databases by the National Healthcare Professions Association (NHPA) and the KwaZulu-Natal branch of the South African Medical Association (Sama), which The Witness has seen.
The DA in KZN said it has a list of 100 unplaced interns — some 30 of whom were from the province.
Sama said it knew of 14 unplaced interns and community service practitioners in KZN.
The NHPA’s database lists a further 45 international students who had studied at South African universities, who are without placement at South African hospitals.
This despite the Department of Health being statutorily obligated to provide places to interns and community service practitioners at hospitals that are certified by the Health Professionals Council of South Africa (HPCSA).
Unions yesterday expressed concern of a potential backlog of unplaced doctors.
The provincial Department of Health said they wanted a list of affected interns before answering any questions.
But in written responses to parliamentary questions asked by DA provincial shadow MEC for Health Dr Imran Keeka last month, the department said there were no vacant internship positions.
Sama KZN chairperson Dr Mvuyisi Mzukwa said the union had raised the lack of posts for interns and community service practitioners in a memorandum handed to the department HOD, Dr Sfiso Mtshali, after a protest march in Durban in May.
“The department keeps promising posts. We have met twice with them and still they are not placed. They say ‘no, we are creating posts’ — I don’t know whether it takes six years to create a post or what,” he said.
Mzukwa said unplaced doctors this year will create an extra burden next year on the embattled Department of Health.
“A backlog is going to happen, and that will affect placements next year. Not having interns will leave a gap and that will affect service delivery — and that is a huge issue.
“Even though interns are just training [when doing internships] they are helping attend to patients,” he said.
Mzukwa added that the situation could discourage students from pursuing a career in medicine.
“You can’t study for six years and then not have a job after that, especially when the state is compelled to give you one.”
He added: “Some interns come from poor backgrounds and their families depend on them getting that intern salary.”
President of the NHPA Dr Donald Gumede denied the national department’s common refrain that some interns remained unplaced because they refused to work at rural clinics.
“That is disingenuous. So much of the time these [rural] clinics are not registered by the HPCSA so they can’t go there.”
The HPCSA did not respond to questions yesterday on the number of registered doctors who were unplaced.