The SA Health Department’s application portal for doctors hoping to apply for community service positions next year is such a mess that hundreds of doctors are currently still unable to register and verify their details, despite the deadline for applications being only a few days away.
The Citizen reports that this inability to register and access the available positions means these doctors could be rendered unemployed come January and will only be able to apply for placement again in the June intake of community service doctors.
Doctors are unable to go into private practice or specialise in South Africa without completing this community service, prompting some to pack their bags and emigrate.
The report says several doctors, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of victimisation, say they have been battling to access the application portal at icpinfo.dhmis.org, and several attempts at logging queries and calling the department’s helpline over the past two weeks have been in vain – one doctor’s call logs proved that she had made over 70 calls to the helpline over several days.
The report says its own attempt at calling the number also proved fruitless, with the automated system constantly ending the call after reaching the “waiting period limit” of 15 minutes.
Doctors complain of having to go through a tedious and frustratingly slow process of approval when applying to the Health Department to do the mandatory community service, an experience that leads to some emigrating to practise in other countries.
The report says one second-year intern says the web portal “constantly malfunctions”, while those seeking assistance on the Junior Doctors Association of South Africa (Judasa) Telegram chat channel have been referred to an official who works on the site. She was, however, on leave for much of last week. The admin of the channel has promised several times to provide feedback to the doctors over the past few days.
The report says according to conversations on the Telegram channel, many of those who have been able to log in have been unable to upload their documentation, while some have shared screenshots of the website showing there are no positions available to apply for.
Many are demanding that Judasa request an extension on the application deadline, since they would like to “make calculated decisions” on where they want to work but expect that they will be forced to grab whatever positions are available once they can access the site.
The report says attempts to get a response from the Health Department proved futile. Health spokesperson Popo Maja could only say he “struggled to get answers” from department officials “because it is Sunday” and referred enquiries to chief director Gavin Steel, who failed to answer calls.
The report says one doctor, who is a member of the Judasa provincial committee in his province, wrote a letter detailing the hurdles imposed on young doctors in the country, saying, “I regret that my commitment to making a difference in our country has lessened, although I do not believe that it is from a lack of effort on my part.
“It is because of the multitude of negative experiences I have had and witnessed in the healthcare system.”
The Citizen has carried excerpts from a letter written by an aggrieved doctor who asked to remain anonymous for fear of victimisation.
The doctor says: “A great many things throughout a medical career can cause one to become disillusioned or disappointed. It is a shame that so many otherwise easily preventable things, such as this, occur in our local healthcare system. Aside from the obvious difficulties in the application processes for posts, all healthcare workers (nurses, therapists, support staff and others, not just doctors) are subjected to quite poor working conditions. This is both in terms of the physical condition of workplaces and in a broader sense.
“Many hospitals do not pay their staff on time, with overtime and regular salaries being delayed for months on many occasions. Attempts to rectify these errors are met with resistance and, if followed up, often still take a great amount of time and effort to resolve.
“Facilities are made to run on very few staff, causing those employed to work longer hours and take up more work. Workers are almost always forced to work the maximum amount of legal overtime hours. Many workers, in fact, regularly exceed the maximum recommended hours of overtime on their contracts but they are never compensated further and no effort is made to recruit more staff to ease the excessive workload burden.
“Labour laws are not adhered to very well, or at all, in some cases. People are not given time to take breaks after long hours of work. Workers on duty overnight (working shifts longer than 24 hours, usually up to and above 30 hours) are not always provided with safe resting quarters, or opportunities to eat and sustain themselves.
“This becomes a frequent feature of working life in the health system, as patient numbers increase while staff dwindle across the board.
“The increasing frequency of fatigue, mental health disorders and related consequences in the government health system paints a fairly bleak picture for the future of any of its hard-working employees. These staff who put themselves at significant risk, even on quiet working days, are now pushed to being so exhausted that they can barely prevent themselves from becoming injured or involved in traffic accidents. The fact that it has even gotten this bad with no sign of improvement indicates a level of neglect from the Department of Health.
“Something that has become so consistent that it is almost expected and even unwittingly/implicitly accepted in some cases; a process that threatens to further hinder any attempts at progress or improvement in this field of work.
“These experiences and many more have inspired me, for one, and a lot of my colleagues, to steer away from the government health system – quite an undesirable development considering how much the health system needs more staff. Many are eager to get into private practice or leave the country in order to practise in an environment where they feel their expertise is more appreciated and welcomed, rather than abused and disrespected.
“There is a persistent feeling that well-trained medical staff are being used almost as though they are expendable; simply loading them with more and more work while assuming they will remain agreeable to the deteriorating conditions and labour law violations.
“There have been multiple instances of accomplished medical staff being disrespected by their workplaces, being forced to work in positions for which they are over-qualified in the hopes of being hired for a post they could easily have obtained in the private system or another country. These and many other instances seem to hint that the South African health system tends to show a certain disregard towards the value of their health professionals.
“I actually love being a doctor in South Africa, a place where health professionals get ample experience and comparatively frequent exposure to a multitude of health conditions. I love interacting with our immensely diverse population and being able to bring positive impacts to their health.
“I do, however, enjoy these things a lot less when I am chronically exhausted, feeling disrespected and unappreciated. I have always wished to use my years of training in an environment that respects the effort it takes to be a health professional and doesn’t exploit or inconvenience its employees on a daily basis.
“It is because of the multitude of negative experiences I have had and witnessed in the healthcare system that I am now in the process of applying to work abroad.”
[link url="https://citizen.co.za/news/south-africa/1988251/health-department-debacle-doctors-unable-to-access-community-service-jobs/"]The Citizen report[/link]
[link url="https://citizen.co.za/news/south-africa/1988249/read-doctors-frustrations-with-sas-healthcare-system/"]The Citizen report[/link]