On 12 May 2021, International Nurse’s Day was celebrated in South Africa, where nurses and healthcare workers remain fighting on the frontline against the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

This highlights the critical role nurses play in the health sector, as viewed by the South African Nurses Council. This despite having to operate in difficult conditions with the lack of resources and personal protective equipment.

Skills Shortages in Medical Sector

According to Kevin Halama, spokesperson of the Health and Other Services Personnel Trade Union of South Africa (Hospersa), the nation is experiencing severe shortages of nursing professionals.

In comparison, South Africa has 1.3 nurses and midwives for every 1,000 persons against the global average of 3.8 per 1,000 people which is expected to worsen over the next few years with a mass exodus of skilled workers seeking opportunities abroad and close to 50% of nurses set to retire in the next few years.

Pitfalls in Skills Transfer and Succession Planning

Rich Sicina, Nurse and General-Secretary of the Young Nurses Indaba Trade Union indicated that the country’s healthcare system has been under dire straits even prior the pandemic.

Consequently, South African organisations are sometimes accused of overlooking local talent in favour of foreign professionals. However, a benefit of looking abroad for foreign healthcare talent to fill the skills gap is that those skills can be transferred to local healthcare employees.

The results of Xpatweb’s prominent annual Critical Skills Survey (“the survey”) showed that 81% of respondents viewed succession planning and skills transfer as a priority. The problem often faced is that the demand for the skills often outstrips the availability and pace of transfer thereof in the country.

Challenges with Sourcing Skills from Abroad

The results of the survey echoes these statistics and shows that Healthcare Specialists are amongst the top 10 skills in demand in SA today.

Marisa Jacobs, Managing Director at Xpatweb, indicated that sourcing skilled healthcare professionals from abroad is one way to ensure the continuity of the healthcare sector in SA.

However, the survey indicates that industries struggle to recruit skilled workers from abroad due to the onerous processes and red tape that come with obtaining the necessary visa for a skilled foreign national.

Some of these barriers include –

  • The registration with professional bodies;
  • Obtaining SAQA accreditation for foreign qualifications; and
  • Dealing with South African missions abroad.

Shaping Industry and Immigration law change

Although it may appear to be a bleak future, change can only occur if organisations such as Hospersa continue to make their voice heard in an effort to shape policies around immigration.

Xpatweb’s survey included input from more than 200 of these organisations, with the results and comments therein submitted to the Department of Home Affairs in an effort to shape the new critical skills list. Click here for more information on the Critical Skills Report.

International Nursing Day commemorates the birthday of Florence Nightingale, the first “professional nurse” on May 12.