Is temporarily hiring 187 Cuban doctors instead of filling scores of vacant doctor’s posts in the public health sector still worth it? The South African Medical Association thinks not.
Provinces are expected to request extensions for the foreign doctors’ deployment as their original term is coming to an end in April. This as recent spates of staff shortages at public hospitals amid a second wave of Covid-19 infections have raised questions over whether government was wise to spend R239 million on a handful of pandemic-experienced doctors when scant medical staff in public facilities were overworked and falling ill frequently.
“We haven’t seen much positive impact these doctors are making as far as we know from those who have been at the forefront of this pandemic, but we do know that there have been some complaints about the language barrier, said SAMA spokesperson Angelique Coetzee.
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Doctors are still insistent on the need for the government to review its human resource policies for the health department. A HR policy with poor implementation has led to the current staffing shortages experienced by public health facilities, she added.
“The national department needs to go back to the drawing board when it comes to the structure of the organogram regarding recruitment for funded and unfunded posts. Unfortunately at this stage, that is not going to happen while we are in the middle of a pandemic, because at the end of the day, provinces are the ones responsible for these posts. We need to look at the possibility of health care facilities which know more about their specific needs being able to have more say in the hiring of medical staff.”
Coetzee says the association is calling for an audit of all funded and unfunded posts that were vacant, and an end to the supposed moratorium on filling new posts at the department.
According to National Department of Health spokesperson Popo Maja, the Cuban doctors were still deployed across provinces.
“In accordance with the initial agreement the Cuban Brigade were deployed for a period of a year in South Africa, that is until end April 2021.Should Provinces require extension of their stay further than the 12 months as approved, they will have to make a submission to the NDOH with qualified evidence. On receipt of the submission, NDOH will assess and thereafter engage with relevant structures within government.”
The new year ushered in an unwavering spike in Covid-19 cases which began in November last year. This was followed by increasing reports of a shortage of hospital beds, oxygen points, and ventilators in public healthcare institutions across the country.
Steve Biko Academic Hospital in Pretoria was forced to erect overflow tents where some patients were treated because of the unavailability of beds.
Last week President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that the government intended to fill all vacant posts, in a bid to strengthen the public health response to Covid-19. To this, healthcare industry union Nehawu said this recruitment process should include the permanent employment of Community Healthcare Workers (CHWs) who were an integral part of our primary healthcare.
The union also wanted the government to consult trade unions in the filling of posts as they were aware of critical positions which required urgent attention.