There is a lack of state posts for pharmacists to complete their year of community service‚ forcing them into unemployment‚ according to the Pharmaceutical Society of SA.
The society said on Monday that if the government could not afford to offer pharmacists community service posts‚ then it had no legal or moral basis to enforce community service and it should end the practice.
Pharmacists cannot work in either the private or state sector until they have completed a legally required year of community service‚ usually in understaffed state hospitals or rural parts of the country.
Of the 984 who were supposed to start work at the beginning of the year‚ at least 78 do not have jobs. There may be as many 129 newly qualified pharmacists who were supposed to start work this year and are without jobs‚ said Lorraine Osman‚ a member of the Pharmaceutical Society of SA.
"Although the National Department of Health was notified of the number of interns who would need placement‚ provinces found that there was insufficient funding for them to offer the necessary posts."
President of the society‚ Prof Sarel Malan said: "If there are insufficient posts in the public service‚ then the only tenable option is to remove the obligation for community service immediately‚ and to allow all completing interns to be registered without limitation and to practise in any setting."
Osman said that while there were problems placing staff every year in community service posts‚ far more were out of work this year, forcing the society to publicise the issue.
In 2000‚ the number of pharmacists needing to do community service was about half of what it was now‚ she said.
It appeared as if there had been an increase in the number of professionals trained‚ but not an increase in state-funded posts to absorb them.
Osman said: "One of the other problems is that the new software that automated the community service placement process for all health workers was rushed into use last year and there were many technical glitches."
The faulty software allocated 17 pharmacists to posts in Limpopo‚ but these posts were already filled with bursary holders who had received provincial funding and needed to repay their bursaries by working in the province.
Osman said one pharmacist moved to Limpopo, where the software had allocated him. He spent money on renting an apartment and when he arrived at work last week‚ he was sent home as his job had already been filled.
"The Department of Health has tried to help us and been co-operative‚ but the whole system is not working, said Osman. "It appears provinces don’t have funding to employ staff."
"The society feels very strongly that young pharmacists should not be precluded from practising their profession because of dysfunctional systems‚" said Malan.
The Department of Health did not respond immediately to a request for comment.