A PORT Elizabeth hospital could soon find itself with only two surgeons if the Labour Court does not come to its doctors' rescue.
Six medical practitioners from Livingstone Hospital's surgery department have taken the Health Department to the Labour Court because of excessive working hours and could soon follow the large number who left the hospital between December last year and January.
In court papers, which The Herald has seen, the doctors' contractual terms clearly state they are required to:
- Work 40 ordinary hours according to a roster;
- Work overtime of 13 to 20 hours a week, averaging 16 hours a week; and
- Be paid to perform 16 hours of overtime per week.
But some of the doctors have been working 152 hours of overtime a month.
One doctor said the "last straw" for him was the 140 hours of overtime he worked in May. As a result, he submitted his resignation. Several other doctors threatened to do the same.
Aware of the impending mass resignation, senior medical superintendent Dr Robyn May called a crisis meeting. At this meeting, the doctors proposed two alternatives. The one was that "on call" duty – doctors do not go home and wait for a call but remain at the hospital until the on-call is over – as it existed before the staff shortage, be reinstated.
The other was that the doctors work their contractual hours only – 40 ordinary hours per week – and a maximum of 80 hours' overtime a month.
May selected the on-call option.
Chris Unwin, of Chris Unwin Attorneys, who is representing the six doctors, said the agreement was supposed to come into effect from June 1 but this did not happen. His office filed papers with the Labour Court on Tuesday last week. The department had 10 days to respond.
Port Elizabeth Hospital Complex acting chief executive Dr Aydin Vebhi refused to comment other than to say the matter was sub judice.