Government does not have the money to employ South Africa’s nearly 700 unemployed doctors, says Health Minister

IOL News reports that “the government just does not have the money,” was the short answer by Health Minister Dr Joe Phaahla on the critical issue of unemployment among medical professionals in South Africa. Speaking at a press briefing on Monday, Phaahla said that this year, the South African Medical Association and its trade union counterpart submitted the names of 825 doctors to the Health Department, with the department confirming 694 as recently qualified and seeking employment.

“What I’m saying is that we’re not in the best of situations,” Phaahla admitted about the high number of unemployed doctors. “We would have preferred a situation where we were able to provide opportunities for everybody who wants to serve in the public service,” he said. Phaahla highlighted financial challenges facing the health sector, notably the high cost of employment which consumes a significant portion of provincial health budgets.

This situation is exacerbated by salary increases, including a notable 7.5% adjustment, which, despite partial relief from the National Treasury, still places considerable pressure on departmental budgets. “The cost of employment is extremely high – up to 65% of annual budgets in some instances,” Phaahla disclosed, adding complexity to the challenge of employing additional health professionals.

Phaahla acknowledged the difficulties newly qualified medical doctors face in securing employment, highlighting the personal choice now involved in selecting a workplace, whether by geographical preference or other personal considerations. This however, complicates the tracking of unemployed doctors seeking public service positions. In addressing the unemployment crisis, Phaahla pointed out the active engagements with provincial treasuries and the recent filling of 564 medical officers’ posts as part of the efforts to mitigate the problem.

“It is important that I emphasise that doctors would need to apply like any other person wishing to join the public service,” he said, signalling a review of employment policies to potentially enhance workforce integration. He said the department was actively working with provincial governments to identify and advertise available posts, with 259 positions currently open across various provinces. However, legal and budgetary challenges in provinces like Limpopo have hindered the release of additional posts, reflecting the complex interplay of factors affecting employment in the health sector.

Turning to public health concerns, Phaahla updated on the cholera situation, reporting isolated cases primarily from imported sources, with active measures in place to prevent an outbreak. He highlighted regional cooperation efforts, including recent SADC meetings focused on cholera response and prevention. He said it was of critical importance for cross-border collaboration in managing health crises.

by Lee Rondganger

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