Internship placement delay causing headache for medical graduates

29 November 2017 - 16:45 By Kgaugelo Masweneng
Minister of health Dr Aaron Motsoaledi says that provinces have no choice but to allocate funds and place medical graduates at hospitals.
Minister of health Dr Aaron Motsoaledi says that provinces have no choice but to allocate funds and place medical graduates at hospitals.

Many medical graduates are frustrated about the delay in their placement in public hospitals for internships in 2018 due to a lack of funds.

Provinces have a constitutional imperative to disburse their budgets to internship programmes that cater for medical graduates. This is in order for them to gain experience and register with the Health Professions Council of South Africa to qualify as practitioners.

The department has not yet finalised the placement of hundreds of graduates for a programme that starts in January.

A final-year medical student at the University of the Witwatersrand‚ Michael Cloete‚ said that he was left feeling defeated and exhausted because of the lack of communication from the department of health about placements in 2018.

“Do I want to be a doctor in South Africa anymore? I’m tired. Emotionally‚ physically and mentally tired. The worst part is‚ I haven’t even started working yet. I am now breaking the silence‚ in the hope of people taking note of the serious problems regarding the nature of the administration of health in this country‚ currently.” Cloete wrote on Facebook.

“In 2017‚ roughly 1‚900 final year medical students registered for Internship applications. While applications were supposed to open in June 2017‚ they in fact opened in August/September 2017. Placements were delayed and finally the first round results were released two weeks ago. Approximately 1‚400 students were placed at Internship posts around the country. The remaining students‚ awaiting placement‚ were given the hope from NDOH [National Department of Health] that second round applications would open‚ today - 20 November 2017.” Cloete wrote.

Cloete said that the department operates on false promises. “Your country’s brightest and best are leaving because of situations like this.” he suggested.

A father wrote a heartfelt post on the social media platform expressing his lament over the unfolding crisis that affects his son.

Gordon Eddey said that had it not been for a government hospital‚ he would not have lived to see the eyes of his son‚ Creaghan Eddey‚ glow as he spoke of his passion for casualty‚ resuscitating patients‚ surgery and anaesthesiology.

“Creaghan‚ my son‚ was born in 1991 and never saw the running‚ cycling‚ hockey- and soccer-playing man I had been. The Ellis Park bomb blast of July 2‚ 1988 took my left leg‚ but not my spirit‚ or commitment to the land of my birth. Losing my leg‚ and the saving of my arm‚ exposed me to the incredible work and ability of the trauma team at the Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Hospital‚ under Prof Ken Boffard.” wrote Eddey.

The situation leaves a bitter taste in the mouth of a parent who is concerned about the future of their child.

“The current uncertainty creates a trauma of a different sort‚ with many families left in limbo and without any idea of when the process will be finalised.” Eddey wrote.

The South African Medical Association (SAMA) says that the number of student doctors eligible for Internship in 2018 now exceeds the available pool of funded posts in the country.

“The problem does not lie with the overall number of Health Professionals Council of SA (HPCSA) accredited Intern posts in South Africa but rather about the lack of funded posts for all potential 2018 Interns from the current pool of final year medical students.

“This year an exhaustive process led by the Junior Doctors Association of South Africa (JUDASA) in conjunction with the national Department of Health‚ has been underway to ensure a fair and transparent process to place students in Intern posts for the 2018 intake‚” explained SAMA chairperson Dr Mzukisi Grootboom in a statement.

“Accounting for South African citizens only‚ we are in need of more than 280 more posts that require funding to absorb all eligible candidates for 2018 medical Internship” said Grootboom. Three provinces‚ namely Gauteng‚ Western Cape‚ and KwaZulu-Natal‚ do not have the capacity to fund more posts. As a result SAMA and JUDASA are calling on premiers in the respective provinces to “urgently instruct their provincial fiscus to allow for the funding of more medical intern posts to cover the shortfall.” said Grootboom.

Meanwhile‚ the Eastern Cape department of health has agreed to fund an additional 30 posts for medical interns in the province’s hospitals to help address the national shortage of funded community service posts‚ reports the Herald newspaper.

Minister of health Dr Aaron Motsoaledi says that provinces have no choice but to allocate funds and place medical graduates at hospitals.

“I cannot stress enough that the issue of internships is a statutory thing. Provinces cannot decide whether they do it or not. Graduates are totally dependent on the internship and not getting placement will mean that their lives are in a cul de sac‚” said Motsoaledi.

Motsoaledi said he was disappointed with the provinces‚ particularly the Western Cape.

“Among the provinces‚ the Western Cape is the most uncooperative. And it’s not the first time; they did this the previous year too. The problem is that graduates prefer the Western Cape‚ followed by Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal. And these are provinces where posts are blocked. They don’t want to work in rural areas.”

The minister said he was hoping for the best.

“If the provinces do not budge this will result in a crisis‚ but I hope it does not get there. As we speak‚ I am writing to premiers in those provinces to alert them of the implications. It is up to provinces to allocate funds‚” Motsoaledi said.

According to the minister‚ the HPCSA accredited the Western Cape to train 564 doctors in 2018/2019‚ but it only placed 318‚ leaving 246 graduates without placement.

“I asked them [WC] to place at least 80 more‚ but they only took seven. Gauteng got a number of 1‚150 but it only placed 998‚ remaining with 152. I am asking them to place at least 80 more. KZN is supposed to place 954 but only placed 846‚ remaining with 108. My request is that they accommodate 60 more doctors‚” he said.

All the other provinces reached their target‚ said the minister.

Motsoaledi distanced himself from the claim that he is responsible for disbursing funds‚ saying that the money is with provinces. “In the whole health budget‚ I am left with 2.8 percent. The rest goes to provinces.”

- TimesLIVE