The conflict between the health department and newly qualified doctors over their internship placements could soon play out in court.
As has become a repeat pattern, the department has again failed to place the newly qualified medical graduates by July 1. This is despite their legal obligation to place every qualified doctor into a two-year internship service programme regulated and administered by the health department — something that every doctor must go through in order for them to practise in SA.
The junior doctors have tried unsuccessfully to engage the department on numerous occasions. Promises of feedback have gone unfulfilled, and deadlines for action have been ignored by the department.
As a result, the SA Medical Association has threatened court action. The doctors themselves have acquired legal representation and will be filing a case in the coming days.
The doctors are being represented by Mabuza Attorneys, who will be filing the class action on behalf of “at least 200” doctors once they have finalised their case. They were due to meet after hours on Monday night to decide on their strategy and when the matter will be filed.
“Our instructions were to write a letter to the department laying out the terms of what our clients want. This is in line with the annual cycle and the regulations that apply, because the department is obliged to place all of them,” said briefing attorney Matthew Yeko.
“We gave them until 4pm on Monday to respond and commit to placing the doctors, but they have unfortunately not replied. So our instructions are now to proceed with the matter,” he told TimesLIVE shortly before his evening meeting with the doctors.
He said the case still needed work, as some of the doctors who had been given paid internships have since been turned away, and others told they can only begin in four months.
“So the number we are dealing with is changing all the time. We do not yet have the final list of names,” he said.
One of the doctors who is waiting for placement and who asked not to be identified as he was part of the court action and did not want to be singled out or victimised, said he and his colleagues were extremely unhappy about going to court. But they feel they have no other option.
“Even those who have received funded postings are experiencing problems. Some have gone to start their new jobs only to be told there is not letter of appointment for them.
“In one case, nine doctors were posted at Kimberley Hospital in the Northern Cape. They packed up and moved there, only to be told that their internships will begin only in October and there is no money for them until then.
“Now they have had to come back and add their names to those of us who are still waiting.”
The health department failed to respond to a request for comment.