In South Africa, there is a need to clarify the human resources for health policy on family physicians (FPs) and to ensure that the educational and health systems are well aligned in terms of the production and employment of FPs.
To analyse the human resource situation with regard to family medicine in South Africa and evaluate the requirements for the future.
A retrospective review of the Health Professions Council of South Africa’s (HPCSA) database on registered family medicine practitioners from 2002 until 2019. Additional data were obtained from the South African Academy of Family Physicians and published research.
A total of 1247 family medicine practitioners were registered with the HPCSA in 2019, including 969 specialist FPs and 278 medical practitioners on a discontinued register. Of the 969, 194 were new graduates and 775 from older programmes. The number of FPs increased from 0.04/10 000 population in 2009 to 0.16/10 000 in 2019, with only 29% in the public sector. On average, seven registrars entered each of nine training programmes per year and three graduated. New graduates and registrars reflect a growing diversity and more female FPs. The number of FPs differed significantly in terms of age, gender, provincial location and population groups.
South Africa has an inadequate supply of FPs with substantial inequalities. Training programmes need to triple their output over the next 10 years. Human resources for health policy should substantially increase opportunities for training and employment of FPs.