Patients at Free State clinics say doctors only visit once a year  

Patients using public clinics in Botshabelo in the Free State say they haven’t seen a doctor at their regular facilities in months. 

Sbahle Bunu, 73, a diabetic patient tells Health-e News having no doctors at Potlako Motlohi clinic makes her and others feel deserted. The government, she says, should appoint full-time doctors at public clinics. 

“We are suffering, how can I go for a year without seeing a doctor? It has been mere talk from those in power, promising to bring us a doctor to our clinic. But it’s been years, and we still only see a doctor once a year,” she says.

Health-e News has seen a list from Potlako Motlohi clinic where Bunu is number 142 on a list of 194 patients waiting to see a doctor.  She doesn’t have an indication of the date, but in the meantime, she’s being seen by a nurse at the clinic for her routine check ups. 

Moeketsi Makate, 47, is an asthma patient at Pule Sefatsa clinic. He was recently examined by a doctor but is worried about the next opportunity to see one. 

“It’s like we are being deprived of our rights to health. It takes a year before one can be able to see a doctor,” says Makate.

But provincial health spokesperson, Mondli Mvambi says the department has doctors who visit these clinics regularly.  

“All 13 clinics in Botshabelo have doctors who visit the clinics two to three times a week. We have four NHI sessional doctors who visited 10 clinics.  The other three facilities are visited by doctors from Botshabelo hospital,” says Mvambi. 

He adds that the department frequently announces when a doctor will visit a particular clinic and patients from nearby communities are informed by the clinic managers so they fill the lists.

“Managers inform patients and they draft a list so as to find out who and what kind of patient there is to see a doctor. I understand that some clinics, due to having more people, require special days for a doctor to arrange to come to that clinic,” Mvambi says.  

Unemployed doctors

Last year MEC of Health Mathabo Leeto, in her maiden budget vote speech, promised to  “deploy all Cuban and South African trained doctors to clinics and community health centres on a full time basis”.  But this has not happened. 

Thando Molelekoa, 35, graduated from Cuban Medical University in 2022 but is unemployed. She is one of the over 800 healthcare professionals who took to the streets earlier this year calling on the national health department to employ them. 

She says she is willing to work at facilities in rural areas. In March, Molelekoa wrote the board exam that the Health Professional Council of South Africa  requires of foreign-trained doctors. 

“In response to our protests the Minister of Health, Dr Joe Phaahla, promised that there would be funding in the national budget. But his claims proved to be baseless. Vacancy rates remain high, while also overtime pay for medical personnel faces drastic cuts. While our healthcare system is already on its knees, there will be further staff shortages, particularly during night shifts, weekends, and public holidays – when casualties tend to increase.

“Clinics in Cuba have doctors for daily consultations, something that is not happening daily in South Africa, especially in the rural areas. I was trained to work in rural areas but I’m not working,” she adds. 

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Advocacy group, Treatment Action Campaign’s Kebotsang Shuping says the government should prioritise primary healthcare services by making doctors available. 

“The way our people in Mangaung and the entire province are being treated is uncalled for.  It cannot be acceptable that a doctor only comes to a clinic once a year while doctors are needed,” she says.

Early this year the Department of Health in the Free State appointed 61 doctors in an effort to stabilise the overburdened system. 

During the State of the Province Address, Free State Premier Mxolisi Dukwana announced that a total of 217 medical interns and community service professionals, including dieticians, radiographers, audiologists and physiotherapists, were employed.

Despite these highly publicised appointments the province seems to still be facing a conundrum of clinics without permanent doctors, while medical professionals sit without employment. – Health-e News


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