While there might be more qualified doctors entering the medical field, the progression into the work place seems far less than administrative staff employed at hospitals.
“One of the things that we need to realise is that the government has done quite well in drawing healthcare professionals into public service, particularly in urban settings,” says Daygan Eager, Programme Manager for the Rural Health Advocacy Project.
A lot of this has been encouraged through community service. Due to constraints in the national budget, the provincial health department has been forced to cut costs.
Eager asserted that one of the methods used to cut costs is in decreasing the number of medical practitioner posts within the public sector.
“We have seen this quite a bit in rural provinces, like the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu Natal and the North West Province. But increasingly we are seeing it in more urban areas, like Gauteng. It may be happening in the Western Cape. Although, the Western Cape does seem to be a bit better off than other provinces,” Eager stressed.
The Rural Health Advocacy Project is a health rights NGO that focuses on advancing rights and access to healthcare for people in rural communities. The organization, through their efforts, supports rural healthcare professionals.
Over the past few months, the organization has been doing a rapid assessment of the situation in order to gain a sense of the healthcare system within each province.
Eager stated that this problem is not unique to certain areas of the country. Instead, the issue appears to affect the national healthcare system.
“If we are not getting qualified healthcare professionals’ into facilities, particularly in underserved areas – and it is not only rural settings, but [also] impoverished areas within cities – there is obviously fewer professionals providing services”, Eager stated.
As a result of the lack of available professionals, Eager asserts that the waiting time for patients to be assisted by a doctor is increased.
An overload of patients will consequently place a burden on healthcare professionals. The risk of medical malpractice is therefore increased. The quality of care is therefore greatly affected.
The long terms affects, Eager states, is the additional burden placed on the staff. This increased burden will result in staff leaving the healthcare system.
The internship programme is a positive initiative, says Eager.
“Not enough is being done to ensure that when internships are provided, that those posts go to the most underserved facilities.”
Eager stressed that more targeted internships and training within rural areas and underserved facilities in urban areas would make a stark difference to the healthcare system.
“We really do need to find ways of protecting critical posts, and ensure that the most vulnerable do not lose access to healthcare,” Eager concluded.
VOC (Thakira Desai)