Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said there were 38,000 empty posts but provinces could not explain how they arrived at their figures. Picture: TSHEPO KEKANA
Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said there were 38,000 empty posts but provinces could not explain how they arrived at their figures. Picture: TSHEPO KEKANA

It would take R10.6bn to fill the 38,000 vacant posts in the public health sector at the end of September, according to a response from Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi to questions from the DA in Parliament.

But whether this is a true reflection of the gap facing provinces now seems questionable, as the minister told Business Day on Tuesday night that the figures provided by provincial health departments were based on organograms that were "patently wrong".

"I gave a mechanical answer to a mechanical question," he said, explaining that the 38,000 figure was the difference between the number of employees reflected in government records and the number of positions provincial health departments said they required. But provincial health departments could not explain how they arrived at their figures.

The health department had finalised its assessment of the staffing needs of clinics, but had yet to do so for hospitals

Given the budget pressures in provincial health departments, highlighted in last week’s medium-term budget policy statement, the prospects of filling even a fraction of provinces’ vacant health posts looks slim.

Compensation budgets for public servants have ballooned over the past decade, crowding out spending on other programmes. Many public servants, including in the health sector, had enjoyed an automatic rise up the ranks, commanding better salaries without necessarily improving their performance, the Treasury said. An implicit trade-off had consequently been made between headcount and salaries, the Treasury said, noting that employment in the public service peaked at 1.33-million in 2012-13 and has since fallen by about 22,000.

Motsoaledi’s written reply showed that the Gauteng health department had the largest number of vacancies, with 5,359 posts unfilled at the end of September, while KwaZulu-Natal had 5,177 vacant posts.

Next were the North West, with 4,281 vacant positions and Free State with 4,185. Mpumalanga had 2,179 vacancies, the Western Cape 1,813, the Northern Cape 980 and Limpopo 686. Data for the Eastern Cape were not provided.

DA health spokeswoman Patricia Kopane said the vacancies directly affected the provision of proper healthcare to South Africans and could not be allowed to continue.

kahnt@businesslive.co.za

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