Massive skills shortage in South Africa affecting hospitals

Nursing has finally been added to South Africa’s critical skills list, which should go some way in addressing the massive shortage of nurses in public and private hospitals across the country.

However, private hospital groups and other healthcare provider bodies say that the country has the capacity to train enough nurses – if only the government and regulators would let them.

According to BusinessDay, private hospitals and healthcare groups are becoming increasingly frustrated by the nursing shortage, saying they are well placed to assist with the problem – but the government and regulating bodies are not meeting them halfway.

The news group reported that these bodies are actively working against finding solutions, with delegates at the Hospital Association of South Africa (HASA) conference this week being told that the South African Nursing Council (SANC) is preventing private groups from training additional nurses.

Recent data from the SANC showed that the country has a nursing staff contingent of around 280,000 – equal to one nurse per 213 people.

At the end of December 2020, there were over 21,000 nurses in training, but private hospital group Life Healthcare said that in 2022, the country needs as many 26,000 additional nurses to meet growing demand.

In an open letter on nursing in South Africa, HASA said that there are many nursing professionals who are eager to assist in addressing the shortage, and private hospitals are willing to take on the challenge of training young medical professionals.

However, to combat the shortage, despite a willingness from the private medical sector, the “reciprocal embrace” of the various bodies regulating the nursing profession and the various provincial Departments of Health is needed, said HASA.

“Fully utilising the considerable unused nurse training capacity within the private hospital sector can significantly help to address our national challenge,” it said.

The training of new nurses has been interrupted over the past seven years because of the transition to new nursing qualifications, the group said.

This has led to there being restrictions and implementation delays resulting in there not being enough qualified nurses. In addition to a lack of qualified nurses, the current workforce continues to age with no younger nurses to fill in as replacements, added HASA.

It said that the long-standing nurse shortage in South Africa – and globally – placed an even heavier burden on practicing nurses during the pandemic – exacerbated by longer-term frustrations with deteriorating working conditions.

Civil society groups have protested the treatment of nurses in South Africa, with the Young Nurses Indaba Trade Union (YNITU) approaching the National Treasury and the Department of National Health to demand better working conditions and an increased budget.

Craig Comrie, chief executive officer of the medical scheme, Profmed, said that the critical need for nurses and doctors has a cascading effect on the rest of the healthcare sector right down the value chain through to the citizen’s pockets.

Comrie said this narrowing skills base is driving the price of healthcare up. “This is not about the available facilities but the skills and management of this scarce resource. We are simply not creating an attractive value proposition to retain existing doctors and nurses in our system and to create more supply of skills for people to access.”

Critical skill

Although the shortage of nurses is a well-known phenomenon, the first edition of the critical skills list for South Africa omitted nurses.

HASA subsequently urged the government to reconsider and include nurses as a critical skill stating that its omission was a strange and surprising development that sends the wrong message about the country’s nursing resources as it created the impression that nurses are not a scarce skill.

The plea for the inclusion of nurses as a critical skill was echoed by the opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, which earlier this year submitted an advisory note to home affairs minister Aaron Motsoaledi on how the list could be expanded.

The latest critical skills list published by the Department of Home Affairs has now added new skills mainly relating to specialist medical and health practitioners – including registered nurses.


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Massive skills shortage in South Africa affecting hospitals