By Tim Cocks
JOHANNESBURG, July 1 (Reuters) – The South African Medical Association threatened on Thursday to take the government to court because scores of new junior doctors cannot find work placements despite staff shortages during the COVID-19 pandemic.
SAMA said it was “scandalous” that, during a third wave of the pandemic, 228 medical interns who graduated in March and April were waiting for the government to place them at public health facilities to complete their training.
A spokesperson at the Department of Health did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
“They (the interns) were supposed to all have been placed by today,” Angelique Coetzee, chairperson of SAMA, told Reuters by telephone.
She said they would have to wait a year to find internships if they were not placed this week because of how the training cycle works.
“By July, if you don’t slot them in, they’ll be sitting at home for a year,” she said.
SAMA will have no option but to seek a court order to force the government into action if it does not comply, she said.
“It’s absolutely scandalous that these interns cannot be placed, especially at a time when our country so desperately needs every available hand to deal with the COVID-19 third wave,” SAMA said in a statement.
Hospitals have faced persistent staff shortages during the pandemic, and doctors and nurses complain of being understaffed and working long shifts.
Dozens of junior doctors remain out of work because of budget constraints, and the department of health has been rocked by allegations of irregular government contracts.
South Africa is now registering more than 16,000 new COVID-19 infections a day, largely because of the more infectious Delta variant, and only about 5% of the population have received at least one vaccine dose.
“Doctors are overworked and fatigued, and many are facing mental and physical burnout,” Coetzee said. (Editing by Timothy Heritage)
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