Faced by shortages of skilled staff brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic, the government plans to hire retired nurses and doctors.

In a written reply to a question in parliament on Monday, health minister Zweli  Mkhize said a database has been developed containing the details of volunteers, foreign nationals who are unemployed, post-community service doctors; medical practitioners in the private sector and final-year nursing and medical students to assist with basic medical and nursing duties in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic.

In April Mkhize came under fire after government brought in about 200 Cuban medical professionals at a cost of R440m a year. At the time, the SA Medical Association (Sama), said there were plenty of unemployed and retired doctors in SA who could have been recruited by the government before it turned to Cuba. It said SA had over 15,000 doctors in the private sector, most of whom wanted to be involved, but did not have an entry portal.

Mkhize defended the decision to being in Cuban doctors, saying they had a particular strength in community medicine, an area in which SA was weak. In his written reply to a question from the EFF, Mkhize said the government requested support from Havana with a team of experts and health professionals with experience in planning, execution and management of the public health response.

“The experts include epidemiologists, biostatisticians and public health specialists to support the national joint operations; family physicians for the nine provinces for interventions on the ground/at community level; health-care technology engineers; and experts to support the SA Health Products Regulatory Authority in facilitating the availability of new treatment agents for use in the country,” the minister said.

To mitigate the rising workforce demand, continued employment of skilled health professionals over 60 years old [those at high-risk of developing complications due to Covid-19] is encouraged, Mkhize said.

This however, is done in accordance with the department of public service & administration circular which aims to protect the health and wellbeing of vulnerable employees, he said.

An ICU short course is being offered to professional nurses across all provinces to strengthen their skills and boost capacity available for provision of appropriate care for Covid-19 patients requiring specialist intensive and high care.

“Training is an ongoing process made available as and when required to prepare health-care workers that are recruited and deployed in the system as part of the surge capacity,” the minister said.