Durban – As a critical shortage of specialist doctors in KwaZulu-Natal looms, and the newly-qualified wait to be employed, the province has opened its doors to 40 Libyan doctors to train as specialists – at no cost to the government.
Local doctors waiting for registrar (specialist intern) posts say they have been sidelined with no positions open to them in the province.
Dr Anil Bramdev of the KZN Specialists Network said the training of Libyans ahead of local specialists was of huge concern.
“We have been calling for the training of more specialists for months, but our cries are ignored and there are still no posts.
“There is a critical shortage in the public and private sectors.
“This is a political problem that needs to be addressed. The national health department said KZN Health was given a budget to train specialists but used it for other things.
“Clearly, specialist training is not a priority because they do not know what the reality is on the ground.”
Senior doctors at iNkosi Albert Luthuli Central and King Edward VIII hospitals said the Libyan doctors were being exploited as normal staff who left were not being replaced.
“They are being overworked because they are here to do it for free. It’s like cheap labour for the government and the Libyans receive training from us in exchange,” said a senior doctor at Albert Luthuli.
In some units there were more Libyans than locals – even though locals were desperate for the specialist training.
One Libyan doctor at Albert Luthuli said he worked on a voluntary basis and received a subsidy from the Libyan Ministry of Health. He said he would be in South Africa for four years for training.
There were 200 Libyan trainees training at hospitals in Joburg, Cape Town and Durban, he said.
“We first go to the HPCSA (Health Professions Council) in Pretoria where we write tests to receive registration and then we are placed around the country. In KZN, we are on a rotation cycle and we are mainly based at Albert Luthuli and King Edward, then we are sent to other hospitals,” said the doctor.
He said in Libya new doctors had a choice where they wanted to train with many choosing South Africa because of the international reputation of its health training.
Dr Zanele Bikitsha, spokesperson for the South African Medical Association (Sama) in KZN, said the association supported the Libyans but was concerned that they were being exploited.
She also complained that there were no posts for local registrars.
The KZN Department of Health refused to comment on the Libyan doctors, saying that it was a programme headed by the University of KwaZulu-Natal. All queries were referred to UKZN.
However, UKZN Medical School acting dean, Professor Rob Slotow, said he was unaware of the programme. KZN Health spokesperson Sam Mkhwanazi said: “The department will be advertising registrar posts in June for the January 2018 intake.”
Sama, meanwhile, has said its members would start protest action this Friday in the Durban CBD over the way the KZN Department of Health was being run.
The organisation has called on doctors, specialists and allied health and labour organisations to support the action.
Dr Mvuyisi Mzukwa, Sama KZN Coastal Branch chairperson, said the march was aimed at creating public awareness of the poor state of health care.
“We hope to gain public support as we demand an end to the rapidly deteriorating delivery of health-care services. The situation is getting worse every day and, as healthcare professionals, we are duty-bound to do something about it. The situation cannot continue without meaningful intervention,” said Dr Mzukwa.
Sama said the provincial health department had unilaterally changed the conditions of employment of all doctors by freezing critical posts and creating unfunded posts, keeping some doctors unemployed.
Mzukwa said the departments of oncology, ENT, urology and anaesthetics had collapsed. Sama was dealing with problems daily, including burnout, mass resignations and the relocation of doctors to other provinces.