Running a public health system “with all the posts frozen” was just one of the many anomalies in the current public health environment identified by Gift of the Givers director, Dr Imtiaz Sooliman – a medical doctor – in a vibrant presentation at this week’s Afro-Centric SA Health Industry Summit.

Introducing his talk, COVID, he said, had just exposed the underbelly of the crisis in the health system in the country: “Now we’re not blaming any individual, any minister, any D-G any staff, it is the system that needs to be looked at.”

One of the many areas in this regard was the human resource situation: “When you already have a shortage of medical personnel, the government puts out some moratorium and now there are no posts. All the posts are frozen. How the h… can you run a system with all the posts frozen?” he asked

“If somebody dies, retires, gets sick, those posts are not filled – so few people to deal with so many patients,” Sooliman lamented, pointing out that the patient count was increasing “with all the patients coming back with their conditions”.

“So the number of patients are multiplying and the number of staff depleting. What are you going to do? You want to correct the system!  Machines don’t run the system, people run the system. But people are going to be depleted. We need to re-look, ask the finance minister to have a re-look at budgets!

“You can’t have a moratorium on posts,” Sooliman continued. 

“You can spend R50 million on doctors from outside the country, but you can’t give jobs to doctors inside the country. You can’t register your own South African doctors who studied overseas but you can bring doctors from other countries into our country!

“Politics,” he said, “cannot play a role. This is about the service of health in the country. We need to fix the system.”

Additional staff, he indicated, would be a priority: “But right now there’s no money. We (need to make) a call to the corporates.”

Emphasising the need for corporate support in all fields of public health delivery, Sooliman intimated that organisations particularly in the medical sector should be putting their hands up. For example, medical aid societies: “You guys have discussions about NHI and want to contribute and want things done. Nobody trusts you.  Nobody trusts medical aid societies, not the public, not the government, everybody else. Do you want to make a contribution?” he asked? 

“Start putting money into the public sector! Sure it could work from your side. Let’s see how we can improve as a medical group and say “OK, yes we want to contribute to the NHI, to the country and the government’.”

Concluding the point, Sooliman acknowledged that it was clear that the government could not fix the system on its own: “The government itself should come to the table and let’s see how we can find a dialogue to change the system, to find an equitable system.”