the strike by KwaZulu-Natal doctors - now in its third day - is severely affecting the province's health service, forcing it to bring in defence force medical personnel.

Most state hospitals, left with skeleton staffs, have cancelled operations and turned away patients.

Toyi-toying doctors outside Durban's King Edward VIII hospital said they were still waiting for "feedback" from their unions about a possible settlement to their salary demands.

A meeting was scheduled for last night on whether to accept the government's new offer.

At the King Edward VIII, Mahatma Gandhi Memorial and Osindisweni hospitals only critical patients - such as those who have been involved in accidents" - were being attended to.

Trying to deal with the strike the provincial health department brought in 18 doctors from the SANDF. The department's chief operations officer, Nhlanhla Nkosi, said some emergency patients had been taken to private hospitals.

Nkosi said "nonessential" surgical operations had been cancelled. The doctors embarked on an illegal strike on Monday - protesting against delays in implementing the occupation-specific dispensation.

"We managed to get 18 doctors from the defence force to help at critical departments. Between Monday and Tuesday we had eight doctors from the military and others were promised by today (yesterday). We will station them in affected institutions."

At Mahatma Gandhi most wards were still able to function.

Hospital spokesperson Mpume Mokoena said heads of departments were helping out.

Patients Sowetan spoke to said while they knew about the strike m and had come to hospital "just in case we were lucky".

"As much as doctors are not supposed to go on strike, theirs are genuine concerns," said one patient who asked to remain anonymous.

"We know how hard they work and it never realised they were paid so little. If striking is the only language our government understands, so be it."