Stellenbosch University graduate Dr Bianca Lucas, one of scores of intern doctors in limbo waiting to be placed for mandatory community service to complete her training, has turned to the courts.
On Thursday, trade union Solidarity launched an urgent legal process on behalf of Lucas against the Department of Health.
This follows the department’s failure to place the young doctor, after completion of her studies, at a medical centre or hospital.
All medicine graduates are required to complete a two-year internship as well as one-year of community service. Without this, they are not allowed to practice medicine in either the public or private sector.
Lucas applied to do her internship in July, as posts were initially meant to be released by the end of October this year. After a long wait, the posts were finally allocated to final year students in November but, according to the South African Medical Association (SAMA), 159 doctors including Lucas were not allocated posts.
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“I was confronted with this crises at the start of my final examinations which made it extremely challenging to navigate through exams. Our lives are in a limbo. We do not know if or when we will be allocated a post to start in the start of internship in January.
“It is daunting to not know if you should make arrangements to relocate or if you should be considering other job opportunities outside the field of medicine since we are not allowed to work for any other employer apart from the national Department of Health,” Lucas said.
She said the situation was confusing since her and others like her were unemployed, while the country was constantly reminded of the shortage of medical professionals in the state sector.
Lucas said at the height of Covid-19 pandemic, they were recruited to volunteer at screening and testing facilities as well as to help with normal care duties in hospital.
“This highlights the shortages even more. The Constitution guarantees every citizen the right to medical care and health. Therefore, yes, we most definitely need to train more doctors. But training doctors and making adequate provision for them to complete their training satisfactorily goes hand in hand. I am extremely disappointed that enough funding was not budgeted for this,” she said.
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The Citizen has previously reported how Finance Minister Tito Mboweni dished out hundreds of millions of rands to keep poorly managed and corrupt state-owned enterprises in the green – the latest being R10 billion for South African Airways (SAA), while being accused of scuppering its intervention to improve access to healthcare.
Solidarity’s head of legal matters, Anton van der Bijl, said it was outrageous that the state wants young doctors to go through a process which then is delayed by the state due to their own incompetence.
The Health Department has not responded to requests for comment.