Communities bear brunt of thousands of vacancies in public health

Millions of South Africans dependent on public healthcare has been feeling the impact of staff shortages in health facilities for years, a community health organisation in the Western Cape claimed.

That is why figures released recently on a staggering 38 000 vacancies in the public health sector came as no surprise to some.

The highest vacancies were recorded in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal. 

Health minister Aaron Motsolaedi’s office revealed in an answer to a parliamentary question this week more than R10 billion will be needed to fill all these vacant posts. He has since reportedly backtracked and now question these figures provided by provincial departments.

Yet chairperson of the Cape Metropolitan Health Forum Damaris Kiewiets told ParlyBeat staff shortages and its impact is a daily reality in many public health facilities that put immense pressure on existing staff. This has its own unfortunate consequences as the staff gets sick and burnt-out. “On any given day there can easily be between three and five staff members absent from work. It may not seem like many but in community health facilities this can have a huge impact.” According to Kiewiets a primary health facility like the one in Delft can have a patient load between 15 000 and 20 000 patients per month. “The workload becomes impossible and patients queuing for these services feel the impact every day. Over the years patients have come to accept a visit to a day hospital might take a whole day. It is just accepted, it has become normal.”

Figures on expenditure in the department’s annual report suggest that the issue is not necessarily money but the inability to attract these skills, especially to rural areas. In the previous financial year, the department underspent its salary budget for certain programmes by millions because they couldn’t attract the right skills.

According to Kiewiets the bureaucratic processes in appointing staff can be cumbersome but so too the bureaucracy existing staff is subjected to. This is because staff crucial for providing healthcare services are overburdened with time-consuming administrative tasks. “That’s how some community health facilities end up with a clinical nurse that ends up having to manage the facility. So existing staff are not utilised optimally,” Kiewiets claims.

DA MP Patricia Kopane said in a statement said, “the shortage of specialists and nurses is one of the root causes of the crisis that is causing public healthcare facilities to collapse”.

Article by Alicestine October