Tuesday | 14 April | 2020
By Reon Janse van Rensburg
In his Budget Speech of February 2019, Finance Minister Tito Mboweni announced measures to combat the growing budget deficit. The announcement entailed that the government wanted to make a desperate effort to reduce the public sector wage bill by giving public sector workers between the ages of 55 and 60 the option to retire without any pension penalties, with the deadline September 2019.
The aim was to ensure that the budgetary ceiling was not exceeded, and that there was no negative impact on job security. However, it had other negative consequences for sectors such as the health sector – consequences that could be catastrophic, as research showed that the numbers of qualified nursing staff have decreased by 40% over the past five years.
At that time, the Solidarity Occupational Guild for Healthcare Practitioners expressed its concern regarding the detrimental consequences if more nursing staff should leave the profession. According to the Solidarity Occupational Guilds, the ratio of nursing staff to the population who make use of the public health sector was one nurse for every 401 people.
“These statistics clearly show that nursing as a profession is in danger in South Africa, but the impact thereof on good health care for millions of South Africans is inconceivable,” said Hennie Bierman, head of occupational guilds at Solidarity.
Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said in the Government Gazette of 8 April 2020 that additional health personnel should be recruited and deployed in strategic areas across the country.
The directive also makes it possible for the Health Department to advertise a post and conduct interviews within a week, depending on the outcome of staff suitability checks and verification processes.
The directive also states the following:
- All retired health personnel, community services personnel, workers in the extended public works programme, community based organisations and non-government organisations may be requested to fill positions on a temporary basis to assist in the Covid-19 pandemic.
- All health personnel (in the public as well as private sector) must be trained to effectively manage the Covid-19 pandemic, including the management of mortal remains.
- All authorities should hold talks with non-government organisations and individual retired health workers to convince them to assist the government with rendering services in areas to be identified.
The National Treasury also called on suppliers, especially local suppliers, to provide much-needed equipment to fight the Covid-19 pandemic, including the following items:
- Protective surgical gowns
- Disposable aprons
- Surgical gloves
- Protective eyewear
- Protective hoods
- Protective overshoes
- Biohazard bags
- Disinfectants such as alcohol
- Venturi masks (masks used to deliver oxygen to patients)
The 2019 guidelines set by the government regarding early retirement have created major problems for health care professions because nursing staff with years of experience who have already left the health profession must now be called back.
“Given the guidelines set by the government regarding early retirement, more nursing staff resigned or retired in 2019 than nursing practitioners entering the profession. In 2019, more than 14 000 nursing practitioners qualified for early retirement,” Bierman said.
According to Bierman, no new private institutions have been accredited to train nursing staff, and in certain nursing categories, the accreditation at existing institutions have already expired.
Bierman also said that the South African Nursing Council (SANC) also confirmed a decrease in the number of students who have graduated. In 2016, a total of 21 517 nursing students completed their studies, but in 2017, only 13 036 students completed their studies. That is a decrease of more than 8 000 students in one year.
* All information was correct at the time of publication.