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‘Please be patient,’ KZN’s health MEC tells unemployed doctors

Public Servants' Association wants the public protector brought in to speed up the matter, which it says is damaging national health care

Unemployed doctors staged a sit-in at the KwaZulu-Natal health department's offices in Pietermaritzburg.
Unemployed doctors staged a sit-in at the KwaZulu-Natal health department's offices in Pietermaritzburg.
Image: Supplied

The KwaZulu-Natal health department says funding is one of the key challenges to hiring unemployed doctors in the province.

Provincial health MEC Nomagugu Simelane urged about 50 doctors who staged a sit-in at the department's head office on Tuesday until they received appointment letters, to be patient as they were addressing their concerns.

On Wednesday, Simelane told journalists that the head of the health department had a three-hour meeting with some of the doctors at which some agreements were reached.

She said based on Tshabalala's debriefing, she appealed to the doctors to return home and “be patient as the matter is receiving attention”.

“We don’t believe that is how we should be negotiating. We should be able to stick to agreements that have been made. We do have vacancies that have not been filled. Those vacancies are in almost all our hospitals, which have the prerogative to recruit.

“Unfortunately, we are unable to fill all of those posts at the level that we would like to. That means we are able to fill only those posts that are funded.”

Simelane said the issue of the unemployed doctors was being dealt with at the highest level, with the KZN premier engaged in talks with the president as well as the national health and finance ministers. 

“Yes, we have been provided with funds from the MTEF [medium term expenditure framework], but those funds are not for the hiring of unemployed doctors. Those funds were meant to foot the bill for the wage agreement that was agreed upon last year.

“With that said, I want to make a commitment that when we are able to advertise posts, which will be now in April, since the new financial year has started, all our doctors — bursary-funded or not — will be requested to apply,” said Simelane.

The MEC said all civil servants had to go through the proper recruitment process.

“You cannot just be given an appointment letter. You do have to go through the process. And these unemployed doctors, in particular, we are requesting them to do the same. Our HoD did indicate this when he was engaging them.

“The agreement that we have come to is that we will centralise this process at head office, so that there are no vacancies that are funded but not filled. But this does not give us the right to short-circuit the process.

“So we are making a call to the unemployed doctors that, now that we’ll be advertising these posts, can they please go back home and make sure that they apply? Those that do qualify will definitely be employed. And those who might not be employed ... the national government is also going to advertise. So they are welcome to apply in other provinces as well,” Simelane said.

Meanwhile, the Public Servants' Association (PSA) called for an urgent plan for the appointment of doctors.

The union's Mlungisi Ndlovu said it was “gravely concerned” about the plight of doctors.

“These doctors were meant to be placed in different facilities as of April 1. While strides were being made in other provinces such Eastern Cape and Gauteng, KZN had not provided concrete plans for the placement of doctors to address the understaffing in health facilities.”

He said the knock-on effect was alarming as clinics were struggling with the shortage of staff in vital positions.

“This directly compromises healthcare services to citizens and undermines the effectiveness of the national health insurance initiative,” said Ndlovu.

He said a shortage of doctors led to overcrowding, longer waiting time for patients, treatment delays and compromised care at healthcare facilities.

“These concerns have been escalated to the MEC and premier, demanding action and transparency regarding the strategy of employing doctors,” said Ndlovu.

He said despite efforts by the PSA, the health department and the KZN premier's office remained unresponsive and failed to provide clarity or a tangible plan.

“The PSA is compelled to escalate these demands and implores the public protector and other progressive forces to exert pressure on the government to prioritise the employment of doctors,” said Ndlovu.