by Simone Cadwell

Quality healthcare

South Africa has world class medical practitioners

Medical practitioners best in world
South Africa has world class practitioners

Sharon Slabbert (Executive Officer - Hospital Association SA) discusses the quality of medical practitioners in South Africa and the role  education plays in improving the public sector.

What do you think about the healthcare system? 

South Africa is on the cutting edge of new developments within the private sector. We often schedule video conferences with doctors from abroad which allows our doctors to share and discuss the procedures they use here. They will then share knowledge and skills via these video conferences. We are well equipped in terms of qualified medical practitioners and ours are on par with the rest of the world. 

Are there opportunities for partnerships between the private and public healthcare sectors?   

It is currently being done. The private sector has offered many courses which the public sector has sent their nurses to. Things like infection control. The private sector will host a course on infection control and the public sector then sends their students to these courses. Then you also have the universities of technology, who offer post basic qualifications or B-tech nursing. The private hospitals provide the clinical facilities for those students to do their practical work. I admit it could happen on a bigger scale but the fact that it is already taking place, is a step forward.

Do you think there is a link between the amount of qualified medical practitioners available and the issues currently faced within the sector?

There is definitely a link. At the moment we have a shortage of specialists in the country.This situation is not only unique to South Africa. Our public sector is experiencing a big shortage of specialists and it is now filtering into the private sector. 

Are we producing enough quality medical practitioners? 

Yes, we  are  definitely  producing  quality medical practitioners. That is a fact as our practitioners are often sought after by various countries. Our doctors can find employment in the United Kingdom and Canada without even doing an entrance exam. They can go straight to the institutions in those countries and start working. Many of our surgeons and specialists voluntarily register themselves with the British society of surgeons. They do not have to do it but they do. They complete those exams and they pass them. So the quality of our doctors is excellent, it is merely a matter of numbers. We don’t have enough of them. When you look at the National Health Insurance and the need for more doctors, we will need to train more doctors. Currently we are training 1 200 doctors a year, but this is not enough. 

Why are there so few medical graduates?     

The problem with the medical training is the capacity at university level. We don’t have enough medical schools. This is yet again another area in which the private sector has offered to assist. The private sector has often said they would love to assist in the training of doctors. Unfortunately the health professions council has not allowed it. Training is only done at universities and we need more medical schools if we are to improve our numbers. The nursing council also does not allow the private sector to train the nurses who study for four years. This is something that we have been trying to do for many years.

Is there a risk for students if they enrol at an institution that is not accredited?  

There is a definite difference between a private nursing training college that is a stand alone nursing school and a private nursing training college that is attached to a private hospital. There is no comparison. All the private nursing schools that are attached to private hospitals are registered with all the relevant bodies and follow the South African Qualifications Authority’s (SAQA) curricula. They are charged exorbitant fees and when they graduate, their qualification is worthless as they are not registered anywhere. 

What is the process of accreditation?    

They will have to apply to the nursing council and depending on the level of training they offer, they will have to go to a place like Umalusi, which is an accreditation body, as well as the Further Education and Training bodies and the Higher Education and training bodies. You will have to get your curriculum as well as your nursing school approved.

All medical students are expected to write the nursing council exams. There are a whole host of mechanisms in place to ensure that students are adequately trained at accredited schools and that accreditation is by statutory bodies.  According to the nursing council’s statistics, the private sector trained 10 927 nurses in 2010. It is estimated that 18% of nursing graduated are not actively working within nursing. 

There is an age gap within nursing and most of the specialist nurses are heading towards retirement. The medical industry is looking at bridging courses for matric learners with maths and science, so that they can enrol in various diploma programmes within the healthcare sector.

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This edition

Issue 58