Thousands of patients across the country will be left without doctors as of the beginning of this month.
This after the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) stripped at least 12000 healthcare practitioners of their licences after they failed to pay their annual registration fees.
This number includes doctors, dentists, occupational therapists, psychologists, optometrists and emergency care workers who had failed to pay by the beginning of this month.
The council said yesterday that more doctors could be stripped of their licences as the erasure process would continue until the end of the month.
HPCSA registrar Advocate Boyce Mkhize said: "There will be no mercy to any doctor who has failed to comply with the law.
"Practising without HPCSA registration is a criminal offence in terms of the Health Professions Act of 1974. It is a prerequisite for any healthcare practitioner to register with the council each year. Those who have failed to do so will be erased from the register until they pay the outstanding fees - together with the stipulated penalties."
The deadline for registering with the council is April 1 of each year. Thousands of practitioners failed to meet the deadline and were removed from the register as of Monday. Half of these practitioners are reported to be emergency care workers.
Mkhize insisted that should any of the 12000 practitioners erased from the register be found practising, they would be prosecuted.
"Once the practitioner is erased from the register for any reason, they need to apply again. We are concerned about how this will affect service delivery in the healthcare sector but there is nothing we can do. The law is the law and we need to abide by it," he said.
"The law states that erasure can take place within three months after the deadline, and for the concerned practitioners that time had lapsed. Practitioners are reminded annually of the amount they are required to pay as well as the due date.
"We even gave them a grace period of three months, but they still failed to pay.
"To verify if practitioners are registered with the council, patients can ask to see their practice cards, which are valid for a year; or contact the council," he added.
Meanwhile, the HPCSA raided doctors practising around the Pretoria city centre yesterday.
No doctor was, however, found to be practising illegally during the raids. But in one surgery, a doctor eluded the inspectors by fleeing through the back door while they were still talking to the receptionist.