Dealing with staff shortages in our provincial hospitals | Western Cape Government


Dealing with staff shortages in our provincial hospitals

12 July 2004
Statement by Professor Craig Househam
Head of the Western Cape Department of Health

Various news reports on staff shortages at Red Cross, Tygerberg and other Western Cape Hospitals in recent days have sought to create an impression that public health services in the Western Cape finds itself in a crisis. While we face serious challenges, including critical staff shortages in some of our hospitals, I wish to reiterate that neither Tygerberg hospital nor any other hospital in the Western Cape is or will be closed for emergencies. We have a no closure policy and while patients may be redirected to other hospitals at times, no patient has been or will be turned away. Our services continue as normal as we strive to ensure equal access to health care for all our people.

This was the assurance given by the Provincial Minister of Health Pierre Uys, and myself following announcements regarding staff shortages at the Red Cross, Tygerberg and other hospitals in the metropole - and it continues to be our position. Minister Uys is in Thailand at present attending the World Aids Conference in Bangkok but he is fully briefed on the progress we are making in working closely with individual hospital management and clinicians to ensure access to essential care when it is needed. At the same time each hospital does everything possible to optimise the utilisation of available staff. I have full appreciation for the heavy patient load that our doctors and nurses are carrying. The critical shortage of doctors in some areas is exacerbated by the shortage of experienced nurses. Health management, along with clinicians, are grappling with this shortage on a daily basis.

Off course, this problem is not limited to the Western Cape, or for that matter South Africa, it is an international problem. To place the shortage of medically trained professionals in context: approximately 2 000 positions for medically qualified staff including medical officers; specialists etc in our medical facilities are filled. As for nurses you would know that there are different categories of nurse for student nurse through to professional and specialist nurses. It is mainly in the last two categories where we experience shortages. We have in total 9500 nursing posts throughout the Western Cape. Of these about 1 700 are unfilled. However, the shortage of doctors and nurses is impacting heavily on the current staff and we are doing all in our power to alleviate the situation.

As mentioned, we experience the same challenges in recruiting appropriate medical staff for our hospitals because of a severe shortage of medical officers and nurses. In this regard, some hospital staff are already working up to 16 hours overtime and more, while others have shown willingness to put in extra hours over and above their normal programmes, in order to assist in the immediate future. Many medical officers and specialists at Tygerberg and Red Cross and elsewhere are putting in extra time and effort. The Health Department is currently engaged in an urgent and sustained recruitment and retention campaign. Advertisements for junior doctors appeared in national newspapers this past weekend. And we've already received a number of applications as well as enquiries from foreign doctors. Advertisements will also be placed in overseas journals in the hope of attracting South African and other doctors working abroad. The Department is also close to finalising a range of incentive measures for junior doctors, such as the taking over of student-loan debt. The same applies to nurses. At the same time, the Department is appealing to doctors from other areas in the health services to assist wherever possible. A number of doctors have come forward to volunteer their services and we thank them for their commitment.

I would make an appeal, however, for members of the public to be understanding of the tremendous difficulties that our Health Services are experiencing. They should not go to hospitals like Red Cross and Tygerberg for minor ailments that can be more appropriately treated at clinics and community health centres. Attendance at hospitals should be reserved for emergencies or when a doctor refers patients there. However, I can assure the public that they will always have access to emergency health services at our hospitals.

Contact: Phillip Grobler at 084 510 3258 or
Heidi Bartis at 082 8858 520

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