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City doctors to picket over staff shortages


Department’s failure to fill vacant positions concerns health professionals

Picture: Soraya Crowie

DOCTORS and other health professionals at Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe Hospital in Kimberley will embark on picket action as from Friday after the Northern Cape provincial government apparently indicated that no appointments will be made in vacant positions.

Medical assistance at the institution will be disrupted for a few hours in an attempt to highlight the challenge of staff shortages.

Health professionals said that the Northern Cape Department of Health is trying to run the hospital using junior staff, which, they said, is putting the health and lives of patients at risk.

“Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe Hospital is the only tertiary institution in the Province. Patients are being referred to this hospital from all over the Province. We currently have junior staff and community service officers who have to assist patients. There is currently only one radiologist employed. The department said it does not have the funds to appoint more doctors or allied professionals. This problem has been persisting. Less health staff will result in less hours to assist patients properly and more deaths. We are in the middle of a pandemic yet we do not have enough staff to assist the people of the Province,” the health professionals said.

They added that the shortage of staff is not only “risky” for patients but also to their profession. “When you have junior staff making major decisions, it is just asking for litigation.

“We are not requesting the department to appoint additional staff but to fill the vacant posts that are already there. Those posts are just void and there are no means being made to fill them. We are in dire need of more hands.

“This institution is basically a training centre. We have intern doctors who leave the institution after they have completed their internships because they want to specialise. We cannot stop any individual from going to specialise in their respective field. The problem is that once they leave those positions are not being filled.”

They said that despite the department conducting interviews in November this year, no new appointments had been made. “There is apparently a moratorium out, stating that there will be no appointments in the Health Department.

“The failure to appoint people is affecting all departments at the hospital. The nursing staff are affected; pharmacists, speech therapists and the cleaning staff are affected. This is not only a problem for the doctors at the institution.

“The department said it will take about two to three weeks to appoint the people who were interviewed in November, but with the posts being frozen when will these appointments be done. We are already at the end of the year; and should the department take any decision next year, those candidates would have been appointed at other facilities.”

They said that picket action was the last resort.

“We really do not want to go on picket action because there will be nobody to attend to the patients. However, we are without a choice and we cannot gamble with people’s lives. Should anything happen to the patient then the blame will fall on the doctor who assisted the patient. Government needs to urgently attend to this crisis and stop sending us from pillar to post when we enquire about this matter,” they said.

Northern Cape Department of Health spokesperson Lebogang Majaha has confirmed that the department is facing financial constraints.

“Due to the financial predicament facing the provincial government there is a moratorium on the appointment of new posts. However, due to the importance placed on health care, the Department of Health has been allowed a special dispensation to appoint community services and intern heath care professionals. Discussions are continuing around the options for the appointment of replacement nurses and medical officer doctors,” said Majaha.

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