posted on June 21, 2010 10:00
Researchers from think tanks in the United States and the United Kingdom are predicting a sea change to the training of clinical healthcare workers over the next twenty years.
The global shortage of medical personnel, including doctors, nurses and other allied health professionals such as laboratory and radiography technicians has been exacerbated by the creation of a steady stream of emerging health sector jobs such as healthcare integration engineers, healthcare systems analysts, clinical IT consultants and technology support specialists.
These jobs have been created both by advances in technology and legal requirements that require ongoing monitoring of tests, disease treatment and patient care records.
A range of articles released by McKinsey Management Consultants and research published in the Harvard Medical Review predict that health workers of tomorrow will require training that offers a high degree of flexibility. They expect that courses that require medical students to select specializations early will become less popular as advances in technology will cause sudden shifts in the demand for certain procedures, leaving previously busy professions with less work.
They also expect that ‘previously well demarcated job descriptions’, will fall away due to the chronic shortage of general practitioners. Increasingly specially trained mid tier health professionals will be permitted to perform procedures that have historically been the preserve of general practitioners.
They urge developed countries should take responsibility for planning for their own health care workforce needs, but warn that ‘it will be inevitable that the risk of undersupply will be transferred to developing nations’.
It is expected that the anticipated era of low growth may encourage those who may have previously eschewed careers in healthcare to consider working in the sector. They also predict that governments and private sector agencies competing for health care staff will have to think of novel ways to attract and retain staff.
But in the shorter term, South Africa has a critical shortage of medical personnel, especially nurses.
One of the biggest problems facing the Department of Health, policy makers, educators and private sector stakeholders is that there are no universally agreed statistics on the number of nurses actively working in South Africa. 2009 figures on the South African Nursing Council’s website say that there are 221 817 registered, enrolled and auxiliary nurses in South Africa. This figure is comprised of 111 299 registered nurses (four year training), 48 078 enrolled nurses (two year training) and 62 440 auxiliary nurses (one year training).
These figures have been challenged by Dr Nicola Theron, Director of Econex. Using pay roll figures PERSAL figures from the Department of Health as well as figures from the private sector supplied by the Hospital Association of South Africa she calculates that there are 104 000 nurses working in the public sector and 40 000 nurses working in the private sector; 144 000 in total. Theron’s study was part of a research study seeking to quantify the cost of proposed National Health Insurance proposals and was presented at the 2010 HASA conference.
In addition to cost issues, hospitals face mountains of red tape in trying to get licenses to open training schools. At the recent HASA conference, considerable frustration was expressed at the tawdriness of the South African Nursing Council to register courses.
Hospitals such as Arwyp are able to ameliorate the impact of nurse shortages as they have invested in clinical training courses to meet their service needs.