Job promises for unemployed doctors after KwaZulu-Natal protest

Job promises for unemployed doctors after KwaZulu-Natal protest
Unemployed doctors in KwaZulu-Natal had staged a peaceful sit-in at the department’s headquarters in Pietermaritzburg since the beginning of April. (Photo:

KwaZulu-Natal’s doctors seeking job posts received some hope when the provincial health department finally relented and committed to advertising new posts.

Unemployed doctors in KwaZulu-Natal who had hoped for a resolution to their plight after two months of protests were finally rewarded this week when the provincial health department committed to advertising 120 posts with immediate effect.

The doctors had been staging a peaceful sit-in at the department’s headquarters in Pietermaritzburg since the beginning of April. Their protests, however, had begun in mid-February after Minister of Health Joe Phaahla announced that extra funds would be made available to employ doctors who had fulfilled their community service obligations.

In a statement released on Tuesday, 9 April, the department said KwaZulu-Natal MEC for health Nomagugu Simelane-Zulu and head of the national health department Dr Sandile Tshabalala had a “fruitful engagement” with the doctors, who would end their sit-in immediately.

It said the posts had been advertised that very day and the recruitment process would be finalised in 14 days so that the successful applicants could start working by 1 May.

The department added that, since the sit-in had started, it had consulted with the national Department of Health, which agreed to make the money available to fill the posts. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: South African doctors shut out of jobs due to budget constraints

One of the doctors who participated in the sit-in, Dr Anele Magoso (34), said she could feel “things finally coming together” by Tuesday.

Magoso had decided to become a doctor because she had witnessed the consequences of doctor shortages in public medical institutions while she was a nurse.

“I am from Centocow near Ixopo. I would love to serve my community or a similar rural community because people don’t receive adequate care owing to overworked doctors, who end up cutting consulting times shorter because they aim to see as many people as possible,” she said.

The unemployed doctors were aware that unemployment was rife in all sectors, she said, but they were determined to leave with their employment letters as the health minister had clearly indicated that there was a supplementary budget to hire more doctors.

KZN MEC for Health, Nomagugu Simelane-Zulu. (Photo: Gallo Images / Darren Stewart)

Very low doctor to patient ratio

In 2022, Phaahla revealed that the country’s doctor-to-patient ratio was 1 to 3,198 patients. In the same year, the department had finalised 33 medicolegal cases at a cost of R242.5-million.

The protest again highlighted the danger of doctor shortages in public hospitals.

The doctors said, when they did their community service after qualifying, they found their peers employed in provincial state hospitals and clinics to be overworked and overwhelmed.

A doctor, who declined to be named, said doctors meant to be dealing with emergencies faced exhaustion and being stretched to work in wards where they were not supposed to work.

“I believe this delay in hiring us is because of disorganised governance and leadership. We are not unemployed because we are not good doctors.

“Most of us here, the hospitals we served in wanted to retain us but could not, because the department implemented the rule that it would assign doctors to institutions. I had a relative who needed medical attention and when I went back to the hospital I served in last year, the passages were full of people, with very long lines to see the doctor.

“This results in an emergency case just sitting in the crowd when they should be prioritised, but it is hard for the doctor to see them when they are by themselves,” the doctor said.

“Even with issues like mental health – if a patient comes in presenting with a migraine, you will give them painkillers, but this migraine could be a symptom of anxiety and depression.”

In an earlier statement, Simelane-Zulu said doctors should be patient, head home and wait for posts to be advertised.

“We don’t believe that is how we should be negotiating. We should be able to stick to agreements that have been made.”

Spokesperson for the group

However, Dr Thanduxolo Cele, spokesperson for the group, said they would not end the sit-in because “we took that chance initially and nothing happened”.

“There were no posts and no communication. We are not unreasonable, but we understand that this is the only way we can secure employment currently,” Cele said.

In a statement, the Public Service Association (PSA) pledged its support for the sit-in. “The undeniable strain on the healthcare system caused by the shortage of doctors has led to increased overcrowding, longer waiting times for patients, treatment delays, and compromised care quality,” it said, adding that dedicated health staff, with limited resources, were being pushed to the limit, jeopardising their wellbeing and the efficiency of healthcare.

The organisation also deplored the “lack of communication and accountability” of the authorities, which it said was unacceptable and exacerbated “a dire situation in health facilities”.

“The PSA is compelled to escalate these demands and implores the Public Protector and other progressive forces to exert pressure on the government to prioritise the employment of doctors and rectify the staffing crisis in the health sector.” DM

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R35.


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