South Africa Grapples with Shortage of Health Workers

Published on 20th March 2018

The plight of medical doctors is not a new discovery. This is unfortunately a situation that has been prevailing in our country for many many years now. Getting access to medical training in South Africa is nearly impossible for many. And it seems like it will stay like this for decades to come.

Looking ahead, we will be short of more than 2000 doctors and 11 000 nurses by 2020. We have had a shortage of medical practitioners in the past, we have a shortage in the present and we will have a shortage of doctors in the future. We have a government that is big on plans and conferences, but short on implementation. This is posing the greatest difficulty for the people we need most – young, aspirant doctors.

Take the story of a young student I spoke with recently from Pietermaritzburg in KZN. Having received five distinctions in high school, he was rejected by almost every medical university in the country. Determined to achieve his dreams of becoming a doctor, he applied to several countries elsewhere in the world. He was welcomed with open arms by institutions in Maurius, the Philippines and China. Today he is in his last year of study and will soon qualify. But his misery does not end there, his country will not allow him to complete his clinical electives in his own country, so it seems that all his struggles will come to nothing.

This is the sad reality of thousands of young South Africans. The plight of medical students raises a much bigger problem in our country. Their plight is merely an indication of the huge skills shortage that we have in South Africa. We are unable to attract the required skills that we need to build our economy and create jobs. This is why millions of young people are still out there, struggling to get by. This is a direct result of our prohibitive policies and systems, coupled with our inability to manage the skills deficit in the country.

Over the last few years, I have received dozens of enquiries and complaints from skilled people who struggle to secure work visas in South Africa. The costs are too prohibitive and the process is frustrating.

Four years ago, just under two thousand foreign nationals qualified for critical skills permit to work in the country. Three years later, that figure dwindled to just over 700. It is clear that the numbers are on the decline and our ability to attract critical skills into our country is fading.

We have a massive shortage of skills in the country, yet we make it extremely difficult to attract these skills from other countries into South Africa. But we are the masters at attracting unskilled immigrants.

We have a border with no fence that anyone can just walk across. An unknown number of mostly unskilled and undocumented immigrants are entering the country and are employed in labour intensive industries across the country. The employment of illegal and undocumented immigrants has a direct impact on our job creation abilities as a country and this is an area of focus that must be addressed. Far too many companies employ undocumented immigrants and simply pay a fine when they get caught. This is a clearly an insufficient response to a massive challenge.

Unskilled people simply walk into our country undetected while medical practitioners who want to come and work in our country have to jump over many hurdles to get a proper visa. If we continue in this direction, we will continue to have a reduced number of skilled people coming into the country, and a higher number of unskilled foreign workers pouring in.

To fix this: we must secure our borders and fix our fence, making it almost impossible for people to enter the country illegally. We must make it as easy as possible for those who wish to enter legally, with an emphasis on skilled workers. We must also take stronger sanctions for people who employ immigrants illegally.

By Haniff Hoosen MP,

DA Shadow Minister of Home Affairs, Republic of South Africa.

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