Human health scarce skills a concern

Higher Education and Training Minister Dr Blade Nzimande has warned that the graduate output targets in the human health scarce skills field will not be met by 2014 with the current rate of medical professionals produced by training institutions.

Nzimande raised his concerns during the first meeting held with the leadership of the South African Medical Association (SAMA) in Johannesburg earlier this week.

The meeting follows a request by SAMA to discuss issues, including the current state of South African medical training, transformation of post-graduate training of medical specialists, funding of medical students and the recognition and classification of a post-graduate health management qualification.

Nzimande said government was also concerned about the throughput rate to the extent that they have met with the deans of scarce skills faculties as well as the leadership of Higher Education South Africa to interrogate the challenges and explore interventions that are needed to meet the national set targets for graduate output in scarce skills areas.

“In our discussions with the deans, we have further highlighted the need to develop a comprehensive programme of tutoring and mentoring first year students as one of the ways of dealing with the low graduate throughput rate in the scarce skills areas,” Nzimande said.

He added that there was an even stronger urgency for the department to improve coordination with the Department of Health as Department of Higher Education and Training was responsible for producing the output that would move into the health professionals’ environment after graduating from institutions of higher education and training.

On the issue of establishing a new medical university to replace the Medical University of South Africa (Medunsa), the minister said the high level Joint Technical Team working on this should develop a comprehensive plan with timelines and milestones towards its establishment, supported by an effective communication strategy urgently to move the process forward.

The technical team responsible for overseeing the process will also provide a full briefing of the process to Nzimande and Health Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi.

It was further resolved to include SAMA as a member of the task team charged with the establishment of the new medical university.

Linking the matter to national transformational goals, in response, SAMA expressed concern that even though the department subsidised universities to produce doctors, the output of particularly black doctors was not proportionate to the number of first-year black students entering medical schools.

“The failure rate among black students tended to be particularly high,” said SAMA.

A follow-up meeting will be held early in 2013 to review progress and discuss other matters of mutual concern.

In April this year, Dr Motsoaledi said government was looking at increasing the number of doctors produced by the country to ensure the success of the National Health Insurance (NHI) scheme.

Motsoaledi acknowledged that the skills shortage issue was phenomenal. He said South African medical schools were currently only producing 1 000 per annum.

“Five medical schools are to be rebuilt and start producing 3 600 doctors per annum as a start, and the universities are to start taking extra medical students,” Motsoaledi said at the time. –