/ 5 February 2024

Employment for doctors is increasing in public sector, says Phaahla

Debate On 2022 Sona At Cape Town City Hall In South Africa
Joe Phaahla. (Photo by Jaco Marais/Die Burger/Gallo Images via Getty Images)

Health minister Joe Phaahla has refuted claims that medical doctors who completed statutory community service programmes are struggling to find employment.

“It is important for me to indicate that whilst the phenomenon of rising numbers of unemployed graduates is being experienced across many sectors, in the public health sector, the employment of health professionals has been on a steady increase,” Phaahla told the media at a briefing on Monday in Pretoria. 

The minister’s statements come after the South African Medical Association Trade Union (Samatu) in January submitted a list of 825 unemployed medical doctors to the Department of Health (DoH). 

According to the department, the list provided by Samatu was checked against the PERSAL system, which found that 694 doctors on the list had only completed their community service by December 2023. 

The DoH said that over the past five years, there had been an annual increase in the employment of medical doctors, with about 1472 medical interns being hired in 2018, and  2101 hired in 2024.

“These increases over these years have happened despite the funding constraints,” said Phaahla. 

The minister alluded to “budget constraints” being the cause of unemployment for medical professionals. 

According to Phaahla, health departments at provincial level were in consultation with their treasuries to find ways to shield healthcare services by employing more doctors and improving infrastructure. 

The health sector also faced a challenge with the 7.5% salary adjustment agreement at the Public Service Bargaining Council, which according to Phaahla was not budgeted for, and along with benefits, would increase the salary bill.  

“The intention is to check if there are areas where existing monies can be reassigned to enable the employment of more health professionals in the public health facilities,” said Phaahla.

Based on health department guidelines, all medical graduates have to do a two-year internship training in designated health facilities accredited by the Health Professions Council of South Africa. 

Once they have completed their internship, they have to do one-year community service in facilities selected by the National Department of Health in consultation with the Provincial Departments of Health. 

For community service, rural and township hospitals or marginalised areas are prioritised.

Meanwhile, the health ministry has recorded 46 suspected cholera cases and five laboratory-confirmed cases between the 1 January and 1 February 2024. 

Three of the cases were imported from Zimbabwe, which is currently battling the outbreak of the diarrheal disease. The other two cases are siblings with no travel history to cholera outbreak areas.

Four cases were detected in Limpopo hospitals in Musina and Helene Frans Hospital, while another case was confirmed at Helen Joseph Hospital, Gauteng.

“The local outbreak response teams have been activated to strengthen the investigation to conduct active case finding and contact tracing, to determine the source of infection where there is no travel history,” said Phaahla.

The ministry has called for vigilance and added that the country remains on high alert for a possible surge in cases at a community level.