SANDF takes action to retain doctors

The South African National Defence Force says it is tackling the systemic issues in its military healthcare that saw doctors leaving in their droves.

Briefing Parliament’s portfolio committee on Defence and Military Veterans on Wednesday on the implementation of recommendations made by a ministerial task team established to look at complaints from unhappy medical personnel in the force‚ SANDF surgeon general Aubrey Sedibe said that they had lost 47 doctors in “a short space of time”.

He said that the fact that they had not left the military to go to the better paid private sector‚ but had chosen to go to the Department of Health had been “a wake up call for us”.

The task team was established in 2013 following widespread reports in the media of unhappy medical staff who felt they were underpaid and working long hours with poor resources.

One of the recommendations‚ made in October 2014‚ had been a human resources audit of staff‚ to see whether they were being paid in line with occupation specific dispensations. The audit of 1‚984 staff including doctors‚ nurses‚ dentists and pharmacists is 88% complete and Sedibe said he hoped it would be completed by June.

So far‚ back pay of R63 million had been paid to staff‚ the committee heard.

Sedibe said that military doctors and doctors working in private practice or the civil service were “two different types of human beings”.

While most doctors would work a specified number of hours and overtime‚ military doctors were expected to work “24 hours and can be called up for deployment at any time.”

But he said‚ they had managed to lure back many of the doctors they had lost.

1 Military hospital in Pretoria meanwhile is currently being revamped so as to meet healthcare and legislative standards. Completed in 1982‚ and built using a 1977 design‚ it was out of date and does not comply with best practice.

An upgrade planned by the Department of Public Works had caused some issues as it had taken eight years to complete‚ “and when the contracts came to an end‚ the contractors had not finished doing their job”‚ he said.

The committee heard that the first floor will create space for 13 operating theatres‚ while the design of the pharmacy on the second floor has received Pharmaceutical Council and fire department approval.

The SANDF had used its own internal workforce to do the demolition work‚ saving the department in excess of R8 million.

Sedibe said that 1 Military was also the first priority for new medical technology and gynaecological and paediatric equipment had been secured‚ while new equipment would be secured for the 13 proposed operating theatres.

Before the task team was established‚ there were reports that pregnant women had been referred to private hospitals and Steve Biko for years due to lack of equipment.

The other two military hospitals will also undergo extensive training and revamping as the South African Military Health Services attempts to meet the stringent criteria set out for the National Health Insurance.

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