Anban Pillay, deputy director-general of health regulation and compliance at the Department of Health. File Picture: ROBERT TSHABALALA/FINANCIAL MAIL
Anban Pillay, deputy director-general of health regulation and compliance at the Department of Health. File Picture: ROBERT TSHABALALA/FINANCIAL MAIL

The Department of Health has committed itself to an early start to the application process for 2019 medical internships, in an attempt to stem the current crisis.

A special committee is expected to iron out 2017’s problems as well as establish new timelines as early as February.

Internship and community service allocations have been fraught with administrative failures, with the department scrambling to post graduates in the final weeks of 2017. That’s after the department was kicked into gear by a social media campaign by final-year medical students, concerned over whether they would have adequate preparation time to take up their hospital posts in January this year.

"The experience of what’s happened in 2017 is a lesson for us to start now. It’s a struggle every year, but there’s a team that will be meeting in a week or two’s time to plan for the 2018 registration process," said Dr Anban Pillay, deputy director-general of health regulation and compliance at the department.

Pillay said the department’s revised January 1 deadline to place all South African medical graduates in their internship positions had been met. The department was due to wrap up allocations for about 28 permanent residents "in the coming days".

But the South African Medical Association has disputed this, saying it was still seeking to intercede on behalf of a few graduates for clear communication over placements.

Even then, the Department has stood by its assertions that it has fully met its deadline obligations, saying those remaining without places were students who rejected their posts, along with foreign nationals.

"Twenty South African students rejected all posts available to them, so they will have to wait until a post becomes available at their preferred facility later on in the year. Regarding foreign nationals, particularly in the South African Development Community countries, the intention was that they were supposed to go back and do internships in their country of origin. We need to prioritise our own first" Pillay said.

The completion of internship allocations for final-year medical students was due in October last year. But the process stalled due to miscommunication pertaining to the number of posts were available from provincial health departments who pleaded a lack of financial resources.

"Gauteng is still having a problem in that the number of people allocated there is more than they can accommodate." Dr Pillay said. Gauteng’s health department said there were ongoing discussions with the government to avoid a situation where interns were not paid.

In the first week of January, students ready for duty were showing up at their allocated hospitals only to find that their places had been revoked or that their prospective employers had not been told of the interns’ pending arrival.

"There was an issue of students being allocated to facilities that were not accredited by the Health Professions Council, as the number of posts available in certain provinces depends on the number of senior medical personnel to train students." Pillay said.

In response to the social media storm from disgruntled students, the department dismissed concerns by students who claimed to be burdened by the stress of logistics.

"We hear their concerns, but I don’t agree that they need more than eight weeks to know where they are going. I don’t think it’s reasonable for them to believe that the system can only work if they’re told eight weeks in advance. As long as they have those jobs" commented Health Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi.

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