The training of medical students in the Free State seems to be facing serious challenges of its own amid a potential national crisis with the placement of medical interns. According to media reports, approximately 307 medical interns are nationally in limbo and have not received a job offer for 2017. Although the National Department of Health did not deny that medical students are in limbo, it said the department is working on it.
The department said it “has been working with provinces since July 2016 to quantify and address the shortfall of posts”. According to the department additional posts have been added, but with the current fiscal conditions the process to fund more posts has taken some time. It also said that it is “confident” that by the end of this month provinces will have sufficient, funded posts to complete the 2017 placement plan.
Added to all this, the Free State is facing even more challenges. Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi expressed concern about the drop in standards at the province’s Universitas Academic Hospital. He said the hospital – the main medical training facility in the province – has dropped to the bottom place of all the academic hospitals in the country in terms of compliance. A report by the Public Service Commission (PSC), after inspections at several health centres in the province, also called for an intervention at two facilities – Dr J S Moroka District Hospital and Mangaung University Community Partnership Programme (MUCPP). The MUCPP is another one of the province’s medical training facilities. The PSC gave the department strict deadlines to intervene where problems such as a shortage of medical personnel and an urgent need for maintenance were found. The MUCPP is the second training facility for medical students, after Universitas Academic Hospital, that has been found to have problems, raising serious concerns about the accreditation of medical training facilities in the province.
Provincial PSC Commissioner, Henk
Boshoff, said he has granted the department an extension on the deadline for the MUCPP, but would not move on the Moroka Hospital, and a follow-up inspection is scheduled for later this month. But when asked for comment, the University of the Free State spokesperson, Lacea Loader, said “the senior leadership of the University of the Free State is aware of the statement by Motsoaledi”. She said “the university is satisfied with its current relationship with the management of the Department of Health and is working closely with it to address the matters raised”. The Rural Health Advocacy Project – an organisation that advocates for quality health services in rural areas – said it was not surprised with the reports that
some medical interns have not received job offers yet, because the organisation had already expressed concern early this year about how the budget cuts of this financial year could impact health services. The organisation said it is very concerned and this is symptomatic of a broader problem: the overall underfunding of health workforce growth which is needed to fill critical posts and expand services. It has called on National Treasury and Health to ring-fence funding for critical health posts and intern posts so that medical students can finalise their studies and work in areas of need. – Cathy Dlodlo