Massive shortage of nurses in South Africa – here’s how much they get paid

 ·12 May 2022

South Africa, like the rest of the world, is currently facing a nursing shortage, says private hospital group, Life Healthcare.

Health minister Joe Phaahla this week warned that South Africa faces a critical shortage of healthcare professionals, pointing to a doctor-patient ratio of 1 doctor per 3,198 people. Phaahla described it as a ‘shocking state of affairs’.

South African Medical Association chairperson Dr Mvuyisi Mzukwa, meanwhile, said that the figure lays bare South Africa’s healthcare woes – namely that the sector is understaffed, overworked, and money meant for equipment or patient care is being funnelled elsewhere.

Phaahla acknowledged the need for more healthcare workers in his budget speech and said that at least R7.5 billion had been set aside for the hiring and training of community healthcare workers and medical interns over the next two financial years.

He said that 2,429 medical interns, and community service personnel – among them doctors, nurses, and pharmacists – were employed during the current financial year, and progress is being made regarding the stability in the employment of more than 47,000 community health workers.

R2.1 billion has been allocated over the next two financial years for medical interns, and R5.4 billion has been allocated in the coming financial year to support various aspects of health professions training in provinces, including additional personnel where necessary, he said.

Nursing in focus

Data published by the South African Nursing Council in 2021 shows that the country has a nursing staff contingent of around 280,000 nurses – equal to one nurse per 213 people. At the end December 2020, there were over 21,000 nurses in training.

Life Healthcare said that in 2022, however, the country needs as many 26,000 additional nurses to meet growing demand.

“Nurses have been on the frontline of the efforts to combat Covid-19 for over two years. They are understandably exhausted and require our support as they continue to deliver quality care to our patients,” the group said.

“Our nurses are very tired. The waves that they experienced since 2019 have really taken a toll on them. But despite that, they still show up, they come to work, they take care of our patients. So just with them doing that, there is hope.”

Life Healthcare Group said it has embarked on an extensive training programme, to meet demand, and aims to increase the number of nurses it is training to 3,000 per annum.

“It is incumbent on government and healthcare stakeholders to address the shortage faced in South Africa. This means expediting the new education requirements and processes that allow the private sector to contribute meaningfully to the nursing profession,” the group said.

“Although the public and private sector offer nursing education programmes, these need to be accelerated to meet demand. Currently we are limited with the number of students we can register in our programmes due to the introduction of the new qualifications,” it said.

What nurses get paid in South Africa

Salary tracking websites, PayScale, Indeed and place the average salary for a nurse in South Africa within a broad range of R250,000 to R360,000 per year.

On the low-end, at an entry-level position, salaries are as low as R150,000 for a year – while top-end salaries for specialist nurses can be as much as R600,000.

A more official tracking of nursing salary data can be found through public service nurse salaries

Like many other public service workers, nurses in South Africa have not benefited from massive salary hikes over the last two years, with the third year of negotiated wage agreements (2021) between unions and the government falling away to an incremental rise in pay.

Effective July 2021, public service workers saw only a 1.5% increase in salaries, with a small cash bonus offered to those on lower salary bands.

Among nurses, nursing assistants remain the lowest paid at between R134,514 and R233,763 per year – or R11,200 to R19,500 per month.

The highest earners, meanwhile, are nursing managers and executive educators, who can earn as much as R1.08 million a year (R90,300 per month).

The table below outlines some of the main nursing roles and their pay.

Role Salary Scale Minimum (lowest grade) Maximum (highest grade)
Nursing assistant (Grade 1 – 3) 1 – 8 R134 514 R233 763
Staff nurse (Grade 1 – 3) 1 – 8 R173 952 R302 292
Community service nurse 1 R213 930 R213 930
General nursing professional (Grade 1 – 3) 1 – 6 R260 760 R492 756
Specialty nursing professional (Grade 1 and 2) 1 – 6 R388 974 R588 390
Nursing Lecturer 1 – 10 R388 974 R624 216
Assistant nursing manager 1 – 6 R571 242 R662 223
Head of nursing department 1 – 6 R588 390 R682 098
Deputy nursing manager 1 – 5 R856 272 R963 723
Vice-principal of nursing 1 – 5 R856 272 R963 723
Managing nurse 1 – 5 R963 723 R1 084 695
Principal of nursing 1 – 5 R963 723 R1 084 695

Read: South African Medical Association sends warning to government over doctors and other professionals

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