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By Gareth Cotterell

Digital Editor

SA only has 22 000 nurses – and it’s likely to get worse

In South Africa’s public health system there are 5 000 vacant nursing posts that can’t be filled due to budget constraints.

South Africa has only 22 090 nurses to serve the more than 50-million people reliant on the country’s public health sector.

Health Minister Joe Phaahla revealed this in reply to a written parliamentary question from the Democratic Alliance (DA).

Nurse shortage

This amounts to one nurse for every 2 300 people in South Africa.

The situation is likely to get worse as well.

Phaahla said more than 30% of South Africa’s nurses will retire in the next 10 years and a further 38% will retire a decade later.

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Across all provinces, there are 5 060 nursing posts (15.7% vacancy rate) that need to be filled.

‘Budget cuts’

Despite this, Phaahla said the Health Department is “unable to state the envisaged time frame to fill the vacant positions due to general budget cuts”.

“However, it can confirm that measures are applied across provinces to prioritise the filling of vacant posts where the budget permits,” the health minister said.

ALSO READ: NHI: ‘Not enough’ financial resources, health professionals to provide medical care

DA MP Michéle Clarke said the nursing shortage is an indication that the government’s National Health Insurance (NHI) is likely to fail.

“Their failure to address the current nursing shortage and lack of urgency to solve the sector’s future demise is a disturbing prediction of what’s to come under the disastrous NHI,” said Clarke.


The NHI Bill was passed in Parliament last week. It is hoped that it will provide universal access to quality healthcare for all South Africans.

There are, however, many who have concerns about the bill, with funding seen as one of the major stumbling blocks.

SA Medical Association (Sama) chairperson Dr Mvuyisi Mzukwa said the lack of funding in South Africa’s public health system means there is a shortage of both doctors and nurses in the country.

“We have a lot of [qualified doctors] but they are not employed. If Treasury says it does not have money, hospitals won’t have any funded posts to absorb such doctors,” he said.

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Dr Joe Phaahla Health Department nurses

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