/ 6 December 2021

Medical association considers legal action over government’s failure to place junior doctors

A Doctor Wearing A Personal Protective Equipment Suite (ppe
Still, the South African Medical Association says government doctors in the country aren’t paid enough (Photo by Pradeep Gaur/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

The South African Medical Association (Sama) is considering going to court to compel the government to finalise placement of junior doctors for internship and community service by no later than 16 December.

“Sama is insisting that the government find the money for these placements, or risk facing the full might of the law,” the association said in a statement.

At this point there are more than 4 000 interns and community service doctors who have yet to be placed, Sama’s Dr Mzulungile Nodikida said in response to a query from the Mail & Guardian. Specifically, 2 472 interns and 2 252 community service doctors are still awaiting placement for work that should commence on 1 January. 

Finishing the three years of public service is a legal requirement for junior doctors to register and practice as fully fledged medical practitioners.

“We cannot have the doctors’ placement be delayed,” said Nodikida, adding that the government knew well in advance that the placements needed to be effected.

Sama noted that “internship and community service are state-imposed requirements, as well as being part of medical training”.

“A tremendous amount of time and finance has been invested in training these doctors. This cannot be utilised if they cannot practice and serve the nation,” the statement said.

According to the association, South Africa has a “dire shortage” of medical professionals. World Bank data shows South Africa comes 130th globally in this ranking, with a rate of 0.9 doctors per 1 000 people. 

In mid-November, the M&G reported that the health department had to scramble in July and August to allocate sufficient money for public sector internship and community service posts because competing healthcare demands — Covid-19 not the least among them — were also seeking priority. 

According to Nodikida, the department “cited a funding problem” during its last meeting with Sama, on 2 December. 

This is despite a second R100-million share of an R247-million emergency funding injection being included in the medium-term budget framework outlined by Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana on 11 November.

Health budget strategy planners at the treasury have recommended that an extra R1-billion be budgeted annually for at least the next three years to address the increased medical student output and placements. This has yet to be approved by the relevant  ministerial committee.

Sama’s board of directors was due to meet about the issue on Monday to assess the progress on placements.