Council on Higher Education failing specialist doctors

Issued by Madeleine Hicklin MP – DA Shadow Deputy Minister of Health
28 Apr 2024 in News

The DA is alarmed to learn that assurances given to us on 11 December 2023 that processes to address the quagmire surrounding the Master of Medicine (MMED) degree with the Walter Sisulu University (WSU), have amounted to nought.

On 7 December 2023, the DA revealed the South African Society of Anaesthesiologists (SASA) was still battling with on-going delays in the accreditation of the MMED degree specialisation in various disciplines including anaesthesia; ear, nose and throat (ENT); internal medicine; and ophthalmology. Many of these challenges had been on-going since 2012 and were having a profound effect on both struggling registrars and on healthcare delivery in the Eastern Cape.

The Council on Higher Education (CHE) had previously issued statements in 2022 assuring registrars in these and other disciplines that these specialisations were accredited and same would be ratified at ‘the next sitting of the Higher Education Quality Committee (HEQC) in February 2023’. This was not the case, and the meeting was deferred.

On 13 December 2023, the CHE made a commitment to urgently address the situation stating that ‘a decision on anaesthetics, cardio-thoracic surgery, neurosurgery, ophthalmology, ENT and urology would be made in February 2024’. Part of the commitment was that the discipline-specific WSU MMED programmes would be sent to the Minister of Health, Dr Joe Phaahla, for gazetting and the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) would retrospectively accredit the candidates.

The planned 20 February 2024 meeting did not deliver any results, forcing the DA to, once again, demand action from the CHE on 23 April 2024.

Correspondence from the CEO of the Council for Higher Education (CHE), Dr Whitfield Green dated 23 April 2024 revealed that the status of MMED programmes with WSU are as follows:

  • Master of Medicine in Dermatology – Accredited
  • Master of Nursing Science – Accredited
  • Master of Medicine in Internal Medicine – Accredited with condition
  • Master of Medicine in Chemical Pathology – Accredited with condition
  • Master of Medicine in Neurosurgery – Accredited with conditions
  • Master of Medicine in Urology – Accredited with conditions
  • Master of Medicine in Anaesthesiology – DEFERRED. FURTHER INFORMATION REQUIRED
  • Master of Medicine in Otorhinolaryngology – DEFERRED. FURTHER INFORMATION REQUIRED

And once again, the CHE ‘is engaging with WSU’ to address their concerns and another meeting has been set down to ‘evaluate progress’ in May 2024.

It appears that, like all the promises made since 2022, there is little political will to address the challenges besetting the MMED programme in the Eastern Cape at WSU. This has led many to questioning the necessity of the programme itself, and to ask whether it has just become a money-making scheme for the University and the Eastern Cape Department of Health.

The DA will not stand idly by as both the CHE and WSU continue to play Russian Roulette with the time and effort registrars put into these programmes, while bureaucrats twiddle their thumbs with no regard to the future of our healthcare professionals. We will hold the CHE and WSU to their promises to address this matter in May 2024, and ensure that retrospective accreditation is afforded to those registrars who have completed their studies.

With the current strain on the public health sector – particularly in the Eastern Cape – and the future decimation of the National Health Insurance (NHI) Bill on both public and private health care, South Africa cannot afford to let our future specialists waste years of their lives on unaccredited programmes. They are crucial to healthcare provision and should not have to shoulder the extra burden of State-sanctioned ineptitude.