Qualified psychologists prevented from practising in SA


They are Africa's only neuropsychologists, ready to treat South Africa's growing number of patients with brain injuries or diseases, but the Health Professions Council of SA (HPCSA) refuses to recognise them.

In 2014, the first five neuropsychologists graduated from the University of Cape Town (UCT) after six years of study and a year working with patients at Groote Schuur Hospital and Red Cross Children's Hospital.

But because the HPCSA does not recognise the degree, the psychologists cannot be registered or work legally.

The HPCSA gave an undertaking in a letter in 2011 that the course would be recognised and those completing it registered.

Director of Psychology at UCT Professor Mark Solms, said: "We are woefully short of psychologists in SA and yet UCT has produced some of the finest psychologists in the country who are being prevented from practising.”

Solms who qualified in neuropsychology abroad said: “Thousands of South Africans every year develop neurological disorders which affects their psychological functioning.  These disorders include HIV-Aids, TB meningitis, dementia, stroke, head injury, epilepsy and many others. In all developed countries around the world, these patients are diagnosed, managed and treated by neuropsychologists.”

Neuropsychologists can help assess the cognitive function of children and adults with neurodevelopmental problems, which provides valuable information on their level of functioning.

This psychology specialisation is recognised in Western Europe, Britain and America.

Aimee Dollman from the first class of master's students said it was "extremely frustrating" not to be able to earn a living considering she had studied for six years and completed an internship.

“We have received world class training in psychology and are unable provide desperately needed services to the South African public”.

Her class of five completed a year-long internship at Red Cross Children's Hospital and Groote Schuur Hospital for free in 2014 because the provincial department of health cannot legally offer funded posts to unregistered professionals.

Dollman and a former classmate are doing their PhDs and two of her classmates have now gone overseas.

The six interns all also currently work for free at Cape Town hospitals.

Head of paediatric neurology at Red Cross Children's Hospital Professor Jo Wilmshurst said the neuropsychologists played a valuable role in treating the children at Red Cross Children's War Memorial Hospital.

“At no charge to the families they have provided essential assessments for children with complex disorders of the brain, such as children with medication resistant epilepsy who are being screened for epilepsy surgery.”  

The council’s spokeswoman Priscilla Sekhonyana said the accreditation of the psychologists was subject to a visit to UCT.

Solms said the Council has been invited to do the site visit since 2012, but have failed to do so.

Two weeks ago, Health Minster Aaron Motsoaledi announced a six-month investigation by a high level task team found the Health Professions Council of SA was in a state of “chronic dysfunction” and had been since 2005.

The minister of health has also published a scope of practice, a legal definition of the work neuropsychologists do and how their function differs from other psychologists and health professionals.

The current class spokesman of students in their second year of masters, who asked not to be named, said the students were angry having spent hundreds of thousands of rands studying and were not able to work and earn a living when qualifying.


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