NC Health dept must improve management of bursary system

By Dr Isak Fritz MPL, DA Northern Cape Provincial Spokesperson of Health:

The DA is concerned that skewed priorities within the Northern Cape Health Department are negatively affecting the province’s ability to build up the number of health professionals working in the province.

The vacancy rate for doctors in the Northern Cape has been steadily increasing over the years and based on statistics from the first quarter, from April – June 2015, stood at 28,9%, which is an unacceptably high quantum.

While the department recently sent young people from the Northern Cape to Cuba to train as medical doctors, they have failed to utilize the bursary system to also train additional doctors from the province at South African institutions.

Due to cost containment, the department terminated its bursary programme for medical doctors. As a result, only one student was this year awarded a bursary for first year medicine. This is against an annual target of 50 bursaries to be awarded to first year medicine students.

Meanwhile, the bursaries presented to administrative staff were exceeded. The target to provide 40 bursaries for administrative staff was surpassed by 2 after there was a recommendation to fund all bursary applicants within the department at the time.

It is unfathomable that, while the vacancy rate for doctors in the province remains untenably high, the health department chooses to focus on building up its heavy admin section instead of the medical sector which forms the backbone of the health system.

The vacancy rate is further affected by the high turnover rate of medical doctors in the province. In this regard, 104 doctors working for the state resigned from positions in the Northern Cape in the previous financial year.

Bursaries have the benefit of improving retention rates of doctors in the province, as they are attached to a clause that sees new graduates repaying the state with a set period of time worked back in provincial institutions.

The improvement of the bursary system could therefore do much to improve the capacity of the professional health sector in the Northern Cape.

The Health Department must optimize such mechanisms to increase the number of health personnel in the province, especially as it is a well known fact that the Northern Cape is not generally an attractive destination for professionals from other provinces.

The DA has today written to MEC Mac Jack requesting the breakdown of bursaries provided to administrative staff as well as the costs involved. We also want the department to provide reasons as to why bursaries for admin staff were prioritized above bursaries for scarce skills.

There is undoubtedly a supply issue in health skills in the country but improved management of bursaries could do much to beef up the health sector in the province.