Thousands of public sector vacancies for doctors could be filled by foreign doctors yet the Health Department is taking up to a year to issue the required documentation for them to work.

“On average every hospital in the country is short of 40 doctors, yet the Foreign Workforce Management Programme (FWMP) in the Department of Health is creating massive delays that are costing these doctors their time and money,” said Mike Waters, shadow Minister of Health for the DA.

He was commenting on a reply to a parliamentary question he asked last year. The last available statistics released by the Department of Health in 2008 stated there were 12 000 vacancies for doctors in state hospitals.

Health Department Spokesman Vukani Myandu says those figures are still relevant. “Those figures haven’t changed much. There are a number of factors that have affected the doctors’ vacancies and our department have put in place a number of programmes to ensure that hospital staff earn competitive salaries and are therefore attracted to the public sector,” said Myandu.

Waters explained: “Doctors need an endorsement letter before they can proceed with the steps required to work in South Africa. It is simply an acknowledgement that a doctor’s qualification certificate from his or her home country is valid.

“It requires a simple enquiry with the professional council in the doctor’s home country. Yet this is taking six months to a year, when it should take a week at most.” The letter is valid for only six months. Doctors need to do an oral and a written exam, which can only be done at certain times. If the endorsement letter validity period runs out between the first and the second exam, a new certificate has to be applied for and the first exam redone – at a cost of R3 000 per exam.

This delay is a problem for doctors, who need to earn their living while they wait and cannot work in their profession. It also causes further problems down the line, said Waters. Numerous attempts to contact the FWMP were unsuccessful.

Thibangu Mwenze trained as a doctor in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and came to South Africa after fleeing the violence at home. Little did he know what trials lay ahead of him to be able to get the approval he needed to work as a doctor here. Mwenze came to South Africa in November 2008 and applied to the FWMP to be able to work as a doctor.

After months of waiting he received his endorsement letter and wrote his first exam in July. The second exam was scheduled to be written in October but by then his endorsement letter had expired. He still has not received another one. He will have to wait until March to write the second exam.

“I and other doctors from countries like DRC, Mali, and Tanzania are struggling with the FWMP. I phone them every day. Sometimes they answer my call, sometimes they don’t,” he said. The Rural Doctors Association of SA wants “all rural people in southern Africa to have access to quality health care” and sees the important role that foreign doctors play in acquiring this. It has launched a recruitment project to assist rural hospitals in South Africa to obtain doctors by linking local and overseas doctors and other health care professionals with hospitals in need.

Source: /;  20091205

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