Picture: MARK ANDREWS
Picture: MARK ANDREWS

Private hospitals have appealed to the SA Nursing Council (SANC) to allow them to train more nurses, warning that the decision to restrict numbers threatens the pipeline of future nurses.

The move to restrict numbers also undermines a proposal tabled by the Hospital Association of SA (Hasa) at the Presidential Jobs Summit in 2019  that the sector train 50,000 nurses over the next eight years to help tackle SA’s critical shortage of healthcare professionals.

Hasa is the key industry association for private hospitals and counts SA’s three biggest hospital groups — JSE-listed Netcare, Mediclinic and Lifehealthcare — among its members.

“We need to maintain a meaningful supply of highly skilled nurses in order to avert a future calamity in healthcare,” said Hasa spokesperson Mark Peach.

While the lion’s share of SA’s nurses are trained at public nursing colleges and universities, private hospitals have historically played a significant role too. Nursing training institutions are required to get approval from multiple bodies — the Council for Higher Education, the SA Nursing Council, and the SA Qualifications Authority, as well as the department of higher education & training, before they can begin training nurses on a curriculum for new qualifications, which kicks in from January. No institutions will be allowed to enrol students for the current qualifications after the end of December.

Peach said private hospitals were being permitted to register far fewer students than they had applied to train in 2020.

No new intake

“It is unclear why the South African Nursing Council has taken this decision since there has been no new intake of basic students in these institutions since the South African Nursing Council withdrew the previous qualifications in June 2015.

“Private hospital nurse training institutions have consequently, not for a considerable time, been able to train the thousands of nurses they had successfully trained in previous years,” he said.

The decision had far-reaching implications, as it did little to alleviate SA’s severe shortage of nurses and meant too few younger nurse would be produced to replace the ageing cohort of professional nurses currently in service. “Moreover, it deprives many young aspirant nurses of the opportunity to receive education and be trained in this critical profession,” he said.

Netcare director of nursing Shannon Nell said the SANC had approved only 190 of the 1,125 places it had applied for, while Mediclinic got the green light for 113 of the 160 places it had sought. 

SANC has dealt private hospitals a further blow, as it has stopped them from training across provinces, in effect requiring them to set up a learning centre in each province. Mediclinic said it affected training in several provinces where it had hospitals but no learning centres, including North West and Mpulalanga.

“We will challenge this policy but it will take time,” it said.

SANC acting CEO Jeanneth Nxumalo said the determination of the number of places allocated to nursing education institutions, including those in the private sector, was based on several factors. These included the clinical placement numbers granted by provincial health departments, the institutions’ previous track record, and attrition rates.

“Interprovincial placement is not allowed because the students are not accompanied by the nursing education institution due to distance. If Mediclinic alleges that they used to do it, my assumption is it was their own arrangement which was not brought to the attention of SANC,” she said in a written response to Business Day’s questions.

kahnt@businesslive.co.za