Picture: SUNDAY TIMES
Picture: SUNDAY TIMES

In spite of a shortage of nurses‚ 700 nursing candidates will not be able to study for a four-year diploma at three Gauteng colleges this year — because the Gauteng Health Department cannot afford to fund their studies.

"This is despite the fact that they were informed that they qualified for the course, but in December last year were told not to report to the colleges ‘until further notice’‚" DA MPL Jack Bloom said in a statement on Friday.

According to department spokesperson Lesemang Matuka‚ the department cannot afford the R57m required to fund first-year students. As a result‚ the nursing colleges will only admit first-year students with external bursaries or those who can afford to pay the fees themselves.

The three affected institutions are the Ann Latsky Nursing College‚ Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital and SG Lourens Nursing College.

"This is a cruel blow to poor students who passed the selection process but are now left out in the cold with no other study options for this year," said Bloom. "The under-funding of nursing training is most unwise as we are short of trained nurses for our health system."

According to the 2016-17 Gauteng Health Department annual report‚ the current nursing vacancies are 982 for professional nurses; 536 for student professional nurses; and 405 for staff nurses.

Bloom said the department should urgently reconsider the cancellation of training for first-year nurses‚ "which is a priority that should not be sacrificed because of poor budgeting".

The province’s health department received the biggest budget adjustment — R1.23bn — in the Gauteng medium-term budget policy statement presented in the legislature in November last year. Gauteng premier David Makhura has also established a committee to work on a turnaround strategy for the department.

Finance MEC Barbara Creecy said late last year: "We have to accept that there are significant problems with the managerial capacity in the department of health. We had a situation at the end of [2016] and the beginning of [2017] where the financial controls in that department broke down. The consequence is that people are spending money they don’t have."

The Gauteng Health Department had R7bn in accruals at the end of March — almost a fifth of its R39.9bn budget for 2017-18. It also has a long-running billing dispute with the National Health Laboratory Service involving at least R1.6bn. In addition, its compensation budget is crowding out spending on other programmes as it soared from 52% of total expenditure in 2008-09 to 62.2% in 2016-17‚ Business Day reported last year.

As salaries have risen‚ the budget allocation for provincial hospital staff costs rocketed 19% between 2015-16 and 2018-19‚ from R4.76bn to R5.68bn — yet the number of personnel increased by only 0.6% over the same period‚ from 19‚735 to 19‚861.