R6000 a month to save your life
Underpaid state doctors have threatened to strike next week unless they receive a 50 percent salary increase.
The action could leave hospitals paralysed as well as embarrassing new Health Minister Barbara Hogan. It will also leave hundreds of thousands of patients without treatment.
The doctors will also protest about poor working conditions and lack of equipment.
Sowetan is in possession of minutes of a meeting by the South African Medical Association (Sama) where a decision was taken to strike.
Sama and Department of Health officials met in Pretoria last Sunday to discuss the matter but the medical union was not impressed with the government's presentations.
There are 33220 medical practitioners in public hospitals in SA.
Sama chairman for public sector doctors Professor Mac Lukhele said yesterday that state doctors had serious grievances.
"We are looking at various options and striking is the last option. We put our patients first," Lukhele said.
Sowetan understands that a strong lobby for a strike exists, particularly among junior doctors, whose attitudes have been hardened by their meagre salaries.
After spending six years at medical school and two as an intern, a doctor earns R6000 a month.
"The strike is unavoidable. The feedback we got from our colleagues is the same everywhere. We cannot go on under these conditions," said a doctor who declined to be named.
But Lukhele said that although doctors were unhappy with their salaries, he emphasised that they were mindful that they were providing an essential service.
Lukhele confirmed the meeting with the government and said that "information sharing" had taken place between Sama and the department.
Director of communications in the Department of Health Fidel Radebe claimed he was not aware of a meeting between the department and doctors but did not deny it.
"The department is big. It might be that one of the units was in that meeting," he said.
Doctors who spoke to Sowetan on condition of anonymity said Sama was not impressed with the department's presentation at the meeting.
"Doctors want a 50percent increase, but considering the government's proposal, which was not even detailed, we are looking at nothing more than ten percent from government," said one doctor.
She said officials of the Health Department had made it clear that "there was no money to change doctors' conditions".
"Doctors are leaving the public service because of poor conditions of service, including infrastructural challenges and poor remuneration," she said.
"We will engage with the ANC this week to explain the plight of doctors," she revealed.
Some doctors were said to have already started to withdraw from working overtime.
The latest study on the medical profession reveals that there are 0,77 practising doctors per 1000 members of the population.
The situation is even worse in rural areas, where doctors are reluctant to work because of a lack of incentives.
The study further reveals that most rural hospitals are run down, have broken equipment, limited beds and lack even basic medication.
Each doctor in Eastern Cape attends to 30000 patients.