Profmed Chief Executive Craig Comrie has warned that South Africa is witnessing a major brain drain of skilled health professionals, including nurses, which will have a long-term impact on the health sector in South Africa.
Profmed is one of South Africa’s largest restricted medical schemes and represents some 36,000 professional families in the country, just over half of whom are doctors and nurses.
Comrie said that over the past five years, between 240 and 300 doctors and their families have left each year, with the country currently producing about 2,000 doctors a year in its various medical schools. He noted that the majority of those professionals leaving are general practitioners, but that is because the country has relatively few specialist doctors remaining, while proportionally they too are leaving.
The brain drain is the result of a number of factors, including the obvious “incentive problems” such as social instability and crime in South Africa. However, Comrie noted that other countries are also attractively attracting South African medical professionals through incentives, higher pay and the ability to bring their families with them.
While South African doctors often have a strong sense of social responsibility and a desire to give back and work with the community, these options have become increasingly limited under the current government, as international employers go out of their way to possible to attract rather than repel professionals. .
A particular area of concern raised by Comrie is the country’s doctor-to-patient ratio, which has effectively halved over the three years.
This was revealed during a recent parliamentary question and answer session with Health Minister Dr Joe Phaahla who said the country currently has a doctor-to-patient ratio of 1:3,198 (0.32 per 1000).
In 2019, the country had 0.79 doctors per 1,000 patients (1 in 1,266) – already poor compared to the UK (3.03), India (0.93), Brazil (2. 32) and Mexico (2.44), the DA said.
Comrie warned it would only be exacerbated if the government continued to push ahead with National Health Insurance’s ‘pressure cooker problem’ and failed to retain and develop healthcare skills at the levels required for the country.
If these issues are not addressed, the brain drain we are currently witnessing is “just the tip of the iceberg”, he said.
Read: Businesses in South Africa are struggling to pay rent – but some areas are doing better than others