By Chelsea Pieterse, The Witness, 10 October 2016, news24.com.
State hospitals in KwaZulu-Natal are so short-staffed that sick doctors who should be at home in bed are treating patients while they themselves are on a drip.
With no one able to cover their shifts, the doctors are forced to work while ill.
Although the shortage of doctors is a country-wide problem, a 2015 study by Econex Competition and Applied Economics for the Hospital Association of South Africa showed KZN had only 8,5 specialist doctors per 100 000 people, behind the Western Cape which had 31,3, Gauteng with 20,5 and the Free State with 14,2.
Accompanying the low specialist rate is KZN’s high poverty rate, the third highest in the country, according to the study.
The study cited the emigration of healthcare professionals, difficulties experienced by foreign doctors working in the country, and too few training facilities in South Africa as some of the possible reasons for the shortage.
KZN doctors, who could not be named as they are not authorised to speak to the press, said the Fees Must Fall movement could have a potentially “disastrous” effect on the public health sector next year, with worries that current interns and junior doctors would have to do extra work and fill the gap which should be occupied by new interns should final-year medical students not graduate.
The study said the eight medical faculties at public universities “do not deliver enough doctors to respond to South Africa’s doctor demand and large disease burden”.
“In comparison to other countries, South Africa’s medical schools serve a much larger share of the population and training capacity has not kept up with population growth.”
A Pietermaritzburg junior doctor said the shortage in KZN resulted in interns and junior doctors working up to 32 hours per shift at hospitals where there was a “very high” patient burden.
A Durban junior doctor said a few colleagues had come into work sick, and had treated patients while they themselves were on a drip as there were no other doctors to take their places.
National Health Department spokesperson Joe Maila said the shortage of doctors was being experienced “worldwide” and the department was trying its “best” to increase the intake of students at medical schools in the country. He said there was also an effort to recruit and retain foreign doctors.
Junoir doctors and interns in KZN are particularly worried about how the Fees Must Fall movement may affect next year’s graduates.
A Durban doctor said juniors were the first to assess patients and see to emergencies. With second-year doctors leaving to complete their community service, the gap left by the previous interns may not be filled.
“[If this academic year is not completed] there will be around 1 200 medical students who will not graduate and will not be placed in internship positions.
“Even if one university does not graduate, there will be around 300 graduates who will not be placed.”
A Pietermaritzburg doctor said there was concern that doctors leaving to perform their community service might be stopped if universities did not complete their 2016 academic years.
A statement by the South African Medical Association (Sama) also expressed “deep concern” over the impact of the protests.
“Interns and junior doctors are the bedrock on which the public healthcare system is based, and any disruption to their production will have dire consequences,” said the statement.
Sama chairperson Dr Mzukisi Grootboom said the public healthcare system was “under immense strain” and dependent on new graduates entering the system.
“Jeopardising this new intake will seriously impede healthcare delivery, and will ultimately have a knock-on effect on patient morbidity and even mortality,” he said. — WWR.
Interns and junior doctor sometimes have to work shifts of up to 32 hours, said a source.