Cape Town - The standards that medical faculties are trying to uphold must not prevent sufficient doctors being trained to relieve the country’s healthcare burden.
Director general of Health Precious Matsoso this week told the parliamentary budget committee that the number of doctors that graduate each year has not changed for the past 17 years, despite the country’s burden of disease.
South Africa has a unique fourfold healthcare problem (a reference to the equal contributions of HIV/Aids and tuberculosis, mother and child mortality, non-communicable disease, and injury).
The question is: how can the country respond to the rights of the sick in an appropriate manner if the same number of doctors is being produced year after year?
About 1 200 doctors complete their training every year. Matsoso said some of these moreover leave the country. About 23% of community service doctors leave the country annually.
The department recently published for comment its draft strategy for human resources in the healthcare industry. Part of the strategy is to forecast the numbers that will be required, “so that academic institutions can prepare for them”.
Initial forecasts of the costs and shortage of personnel are set out in the draft. A shortfall of more than 4 000 doctors is indicated.
Matsoso said that Minister of Health Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, in discussion with the deans of the country's medical faculties, asked them why the same number of doctors was being produced year after year.
Their response was apparently that the faculties wanted to “maintain standards”.
But, she asked, what are these standards that undermine the need to alleviate the country’s healthcare problem.
It's more important to relieve the burden. Quality has to be linked to it in some other way.
Then, she said, a decision must be made about the additional requirement to raise appropriate funding to achieve the numbers needed.
The University of the Witwatersrand has been asked to take in 40 previously disadvantaged students in a trial project to determine the associated costs.
The Nelson Mandela Medical School at the University of KwaZulu-Natal has announced that it is also prepared to increase numbers.
“The other option, if we don't train doctors, is to go to countries like Libya and Iraq and recruit doctors from there.
“Is that where South Africa wants to go? I don't think so.”