The National Health Department reports that around 700 recently graduated doctors are unemployed. Health Minister Joe Phaahla mentioned in a press conference that provinces have no funds for new positions for medical officers because of their high salaries. Nevertheless, he noted that the department is working with provinces to secure placements for doctors and other healthcare workers in the public health sector and guarantee their salaries are taken care of.

By Staff Reporter

In a startling revelation, Health Minister Joe Phaahla disclosed in a press conference yesterday that an astronomical sum of approximately R900 million was disbursed as medical negligence claims in just one South African province during the last financial year.

The minister also highlighted that this significant sum of money could have financed the employment of 694 unemployed doctors nationally. This shocking revelation underscores the urgent need for improved healthcare infrastructure and quality control measures to ensure the well-being of patients while alleviating the burden on already stretched medical resources.

Although he did not mention the specific province, a report by the Auditor-General in 2023 revealed that the Eastern Cape province paid out claims totalling approximately R867 million in 2021. At the same time, the expenditure on salaries to hire 694 newly qualified doctors in 2023 would have been roughly R838 million.

Phaahla acknowledged the paradoxical nature of the situation, stating: “On the one hand, we are dealing with amounts of money being paid out for claims, while at the same time, we are unable to employ people who help to reduce this.”

Sunhera Sukdeo is a prime example of this phenomenon of jobless doctors, having graduated with cum laude honours from the University of KwaZulu-Natal in 2023.

“I am sitting at home unemployed. But I am not alone. There are currently almost 800 unemployed medical doctors in South Africa while the people of our country are travelling for two to three hours and sitting in queues for five to six hours waiting to see a doctor.

“A 93% aggregate with nine distinctions: that was what it took me to get into the University of Kwazulu-Natal’s Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine as a female South African of Indian descent. I got a R20,000 discount for my first year of medical school and my father paid every cent in full for the subsequent five years.

“My father, also a South African of Indian descent, was born in South Africa. He lived in a one-bedroom home with his five siblings and parents. He worked as a common labourer but was blessed with the strength, courage and determination to open his own business – his highest level of education being a matric certificate. His blood, sweat and tears are what got me a private school education and put me through medical school,” Sunhera wrote in

“It is now January 2024. I am a cum laude medical doctor. I am sitting at home unemployed. But I am not alone – most of my peers are in the same boat as I am,” she complained.

Percy Mahlathi, the deputy director for human resources at the National Health Department, highlighted the significant difficulty provincial health departments encounter in securing adequate funding. He stressed that the current financial limitations affecting all government sectors and the whole country directly impact the allocation of funds for healthcare services.

The minister received information from the SA Medical Association Trade Unions, an organization dedicated to protecting the rights of healthcare professionals, indicating that around 800 medical doctors were without employment.

After cross-checking with the state’s employee database, Phaahla revealed that this number had decreased to 694. This indicates that the mentioned doctors had completed their community service obligations by December 31.

“We are not in the best of situations. We would have preferred to be in a position to employ everybody who wants to serve in the public sector,” explained Phaahla. 

South African universities have increased the number of medical interns they have trained in less than ten years to address the shortage of doctors in government hospitals and clinics. However, the National Treasury has not increased the budgets of provincial health departments, resulting in insufficient funds to employ the growing number of graduates.

In 2021, one in seven doctor positions in hospitals and one in five in clinics were unfilled, resulting in three doctors for every 10,000 patients in the public system. The state had to allocate funds to pay 895 more interns within five years, amounting to just over R800 million.

Phaahla stated that the 7.5% salary increase for public health workers, which was agreed upon by the government and trade unions in 2023, will create challenges in the recruitment of new personnel and will impose additional financial pressure on the health department’s budget.

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