Medical Engineers Overworked Due to Shortage

The Ministry of Health and Social Services is faced with an acute shortage of highly-specialised skills in areas such as medical engineering, radiography, neurology and cardiothoracic surgery, making the few available staff to be overworked.

Speaking exclusively to New Era on Friday, Belinda Wolbling, who is the only qualified bio-medical engineer in the country, confirmed the scarcity of medical engineers in the public health sector.

A bio-medical engineer is mainly responsible for the maintenance and management of medical equipment in health facilities.

“There is big scarcity of bio-medical engineers. We are not recognised as a scarce skill and often we are put on one level with other engineers such as civil and electrical. That is why people tend to think there is a lot of engineers in the country,” she noted.

One big challenge, said Wolbling who studied in Germany, is that bio-medical engineers are overworked.

“The work is a lot. You get negative reports on medical equipment that are broken at state hospitals, but people don’t know that the work is complex and there is no manpower,” she said.

“At the moment we depend on neighbouring countries to assist us in repairs until such time we can train our own people.” She however revealed that the health ministry is in the process of sending students overseas to pursue studies in clinical and bio-medical engineering to mitigate the situation.

Currently there is a national referral workshop at Windhoek Central Hospital that deals with the maintenance and repair of medical equipment for the Katutura Intermediate and Windhoek Central hospitals, as well as regional hospitals which do not have clinical engineering workshops.

Wolbling said for the country to cope with the current dire situation, Namibia needs at least 30 bio-medical engineers and various engineering technicians.

Radiographers are also scarce. New Era caught up with one of the country’s qualified radiographers, Claudia Awene, who is the acting control radiographer in the health ministry. She confirmed the shortage.

According to her, the current structures do not cater for employment in such a field.

“Even if radiographers graduate, there are no jobs for them. Staff structure is outdated. It does not make provision for the growing needs of the population,” she noted.

Currently Namibia’s public health system has 47 diagnostic radiographers, one sonographer, eight therapeutic radiographers, two nuclear radiographers and 32 assistant radiographers.

Awene explained that most of the radiography units are manned by one staff member who at times can be on call 24 hours, seven days a week.

“They are overworked. They are burned out. Better incentives and more exposure to new techniques often drive qualified radiographers into the private sector.”

The public sector has 37 radiographic departments countrywide and in terms of manpower not one is properly and fully equipped.

Source : New Era