Race quotas cripple hospitals
03 June 2007
Surgery cancelled as province insists on hiring nonexistent black doctors.
Up to 10 operations a day are being cancelled as a rigid affirmative-action policy in the Western Cape blocks white and Indian doctors from filling vital vacant senior posts.
Specialists are waiting for up to two years to have their appointments finalised while the provincial Cabinet stalls on their posts, waiting for black candidates to fill them instead.
Now two of the country’ s top academic hospitals, Tygerberg and Groote Schuur, which treat thousands of patients from throughout the province and the Eastern and Northern Cape , are under huge strain.
The biggest losers are disadvantaged patients who already have to wait months, or even years, for surgery.
The equity policy that gives preference to black candidates has been labelled “playing racial politics with patients’ lives”.
There are too few black specialists applying for the jobs at both Groote Schuur and Tygerberg.
Just last month at Tygerberg Hospital, the heads of the various surgical departments were notified that operation lists would be cut indefinitely because of a shortage of anaesthetists.
When they questioned the theatre manager about this, they were told that two senior anaesthetist posts had been advertised but only white males had applied.
The hospital had recommended they be appointed but all applications have to be approved by the Western Cape Cabinet and Health MEC. They insisted the posts be readvertised to try to get equity applicants.
The Sunday Times spoke to Professor James Loock of the ear, nose and throat department, who was forced to operate with a locum (temporary) anaesthetist to avoid harmful delays for his patients.
One of them was a boy with an ear condition for which surgery is mandatory to prevent life- threatening complications.
Dr Fred Mattheyse — one of the candidates whose appointment was deferred — is now leaving for Australia.
He said: “I’m leaving reluctantly but I have reached a ceiling in my career here.”
Groote Schuur’s head of surgery, Professor Del Kahn, said the equity requirements were having the most impact on the choice of registrars, who are specialists in training.
“We have been obliged to take equity candidates who do not meet our minimum requirements, and Indian doctors are being discriminated against in this province,” he said.
He said the filling of two top posts at the hospital in the past six months had taken more than two years to finalise because the candidates had been white.
However, Professor Bongani Mayosi, head of cardiology at Groote Schuur, said he had successfully motivated for three senior posts to be filled by white male specialists, while training black specialists for the future.
“Employment equity is a project I support very much but institutions have got to plan properly so that the outcome is better than before,” he said.
Kahn also slammed budget cuts of more than R30-million at Groote Schuur and Tygerberg.
“We will, for example, have to close at least 60 beds and cut the number of outpatients. Where will these patients go?”
The Western Cape’s policy comes as an increasing number of black medical professionals are being lured abroad by attractive conditions and pay.
Valkenberg Hospital has also struggled to secure an appointment for a top post. This week the Western Cape readvertised the position.
Dr Thabo Rangaka, president of the South African Society of Psychiatrists, said South Africa had few black psychiatrists and it would be difficult to get black applicants in the public sector.
Asked about the province’s equity approach, Western Cape Health spokes man Faiza Steyn said: “The Department of Health has an approved recruitment and selection policy as well as an approved employment equity plan. Appointments are made in terms of said policy.”
The Democratic Alliance’s health spokesman, Gareth Morgan, said: “This amounts to playing racial politics with patients’ lives.”
Dr Abdul Rahman, the chief operating officer of the Gauteng Health Department, said an employment equity policy existed in government but his department would not implement it.
“We are recruiting across the board and desperately trying to fill vacant posts ... We simply don’t have the doctors and nurses and therefore cannot implement such a policy.”
The Eastern Cape Health Department also said it could not afford such a policy. — Additional reporting by Simpiwe Piliso and Megan Power