Profmed chief executive Craig Comrie has warned that South Africa is seeing a significant brain drain of skilled medical professionals, including nurses, which will have a long-term impact on South Africa’s healthcare sector.
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 which are doctors and nurses.
Comrie said that over the last five years between 240-300 doctors and their families have left annually, with the country currently producing around 2,000 doctors a year through its various medical schools. He noted that the majority of these professionals leaving are general practitioners, but this is because the country has relatively few specialist doctors remaining, while proportionally they too are leaving.
The brain drain is a result of a number of factors – including the obvious ‘push issues’ such as social instability and crime in South Africa. However, Comrie noted that other countries are also attractively attracting South Africa’s healthcare professionals through incentives, higher remuneration and the option to bring their families over with them.
While South Africa’s 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, while international employers are doing their utmost to attract rather than push professionals away.
A particular point of concern raised by Comrie is the country’s doctor-to-patient ratio, which has effectively halved over the three years.
This was revealed in a recent parliamentary Q&A with health minister Dr Joe Phaahla, who indicated that the country currently has a doctor-to-patient ratio of 1 to 3,198 (0.32 to 1,000).
In 2019, the country had 0.79 doctors per 1,000 patients (1 to 1,266) – already poor when compared to the United Kingdom (3.03), India (0.93), Brazil (2.32), and Mexico (2.44), the DA said.
Comrie warned that this would only be exacerbated if the government continues to forge ahead with ‘the pressure cooker issue’ of the National Health Insurance, and fails to retain and develop the healthcare skills at the required levels for the country.
If these issues are not addressed the brain drain we are seeing now is ‘just the tip of the iceberg’, he said.