Are health professionals adequately trained to work with older persons?


The South African public health system struggles to provide adequate healthcare services to the large number of people who depend on it. Amongst other things, staff shortages, time and resource constraints and weak management systems lead to poor service delivery and the negligent treatment of patients. In some cases, this negligence has resulted in legal action against the Department of Health.  

The quality and accessibility of healthcare for older persons in South Africa, who may have multiple health conditions and impairments and face both individual and systemic barriers to access, is particularly concerning. In an overburdened and underperforming health system, the needs of the elderly are often neglected. One of the most obvious indications of the low priority given to the elderly in the health system is the removal of gerontology and geriatrics from the South African Nursing Council curriculum.

Older people often have complex health and social needs and without focused training in this area, nurses are no longer trained to provide competent care to older persons. This has significant implications for the quality of care elderly people receive in clinics, hospitals and long-term care facilities.  Health professionals such as medical doctors, occupational therapists, psychologists, physiotherapists, speech therapists, dentists, and social workers play equally important roles in addressing the health and care needs of older persons. Little research has been conducted on the type and level of training these professionals receive on geriatric issues, but we at SIFAR suspect that this training does not adequately prepare health workers to meet the needs of the growing elderly population.  

SIFAR is currently working to address this knowledge gap by assessing the training provided to health science students at both undergraduate and postgraduate level. Identifying and addressing gaps in healthcare training curricula will strengthen the workforce of health professionals and, thus, the quality and accessibility of healthcare from birth until the end of life for all South Africans. 

Please visit our Current Projects page for more information on our research.