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Promises of a better lifestyle, tax-friendly salary packages and good working conditions are offered to unhappy South African doctors and specialists by dozens of recruitment agencies trying to lure them abroad, Times South Africa reports.
Hospitals abroad offer double pay for overtime. There are a mere 800 anaesthetists left in the country and 450 general surgeons.
Doctors' employment agency, International Medical Recruitment, said the country's medics were renowned for their professionalism and training, making them prime candidates for poaching. The agency recruits medics to work in hospitals around the world, but mainly in the UK, Australia and New Zealand. The agency's UK spokesman, Nick Sljivic, said money was one of the main reasons local doctors left.
Now the government has started an aggressive doctor-recruitment drive with African Health Placements, a non-profit project, which is helping the Department of Health recruit foreign doctors and others in the country's private sector to work in state hospitals.
Recruitment manager Xoliswa Lukhlo said in the past three years her organisation had placed 1200 doctors in state hospitals, the majority of whom were foreign. Although Sljivic would not divulge details about the numbers of South African doctors leaving, he said they could, depending on their areas of expertise, double or triple their earnings abroad.
In many cases, hospitals abroad offer double pay to doctors working overtime. Other benefits include five weeks of paid leave a year, subsidised meals and affordable accommodation.
Johannesburg-based anaesthetist Dr Imraan Tayob plans to leave in the next two years. Poor hospital management, shortages of nurses and support staff, and poor promotion opportunities leave doctors with no choice, he says.
"The salary you earn [in state hospitals] is less than that of a plumber. I'm waiting for my wife to finish training and I will be on my way," he said.
Tayob said some of his friends had already left and others will follow. "Last month one of my friends went to Canada. He is an anaesthetist as well, his wife is a doctor. Another anaesthetist is leaving for Australia next month, his wife is a physician. There is a massive exodus," he said.
Tayob said the resignation of Wits Medical School Professor Saths Bhagwanjee, who went to work in the US, was a huge loss. "He was an Intensive Care Unit and anaesthetic specialist. He has gone to Seattle. His wife was a neurologist. He had 20 years' experience and was in charge of teaching students. The guys coming out of Wits don't have experience as there is no one to teach - they haven't replaced Bhagwanjee; there is no one to replace him," Tayob said.