Presidency sets deadline for plan to fix public health system

Cyril Ramaphosa drives process aimed at improving services and speeding up implementation of National Health Insurance

22 OCTOBER 2018 - 05:05 TAMAR KAHN


The Presidency has acknowledged the crisis gripping the public health system, and concluded a two-day summit at the weekend with a commitment to devise a plan for fixing the sector’s ills by early December.

President Cyril Ramaphosa is taking the lead on health, driving a process aimed at improving the quality of services and speed up implementation of National Health Insurance (NHI).

Only 8.87-million South Africans, or 15.61% of the population, could afford private healthcare via medical scheme cover in 2017, according to the Council for Medical Schemes, leaving the rest of the population dependent on public health services that have virtually collapsed in many parts of the country.

The presidential health summit highlights the importance Ramaphosa is attaching to healthcare ahead of 2019’s election, and follows a summit on NHI he convened in August.

The latest summit drew more than 600 delegates from across the healthcare spectrum, including senior executives from SA’s private hospital groups, pharmaceutical companies and the medical scheme industry, as well as unionists, activists, healthcare professionals, MPs, government officials and academics. It concluded with a commitment to devise a presidential health summit compact that will be signed by stakeholders by December 10.

The Presidency will assume oversight of the compact to make sure its goals are met, said Ramaphosa’s adviser on social policy, Olive Shisana.

“The president has made it very clear he is taking stewardship of NHI and quality. The departments themselves have to execute what the president is saying,” she said. “That is why we have a ‘war room’. We are building expertise for oversight, for translating policy into action. It is a new model for fast-tracking delivery.”

Deputy President David Mabuza, who addressed the gathering on behalf of Ramaphosa, frankly acknowledged the problems facing healthcare. He signalled an inclusive approach, saying all sectors had to be involved to realise universal access to healthcare services. Ramaphosa has been suffering from a respiratory tract infection, and was instructed by his medical team to take time off work.

“In the short term, government will prioritise the filling of critical vacant posts to stabilise shortages in key areas of our health system. In the context of fiscal constraints, provinces will be expected to prioritise their financial resource allocations in a manner that ensures that the delivery of quality healthcare is not compromised,” he said.

Business Unity SA CEO Tanya Cohen said the summit created a platform for collaboration. “A number of very practical steps have been identified, and it is hoped that this provides the basis for concrete action to improve access to decent healthcare by all South Africans. It is clear that the private sector has an important role to play in offering sustainable and efficient solutions to the crisis in healthcare,” she said.

Aspen Pharmacare’s head of strategic trade, Stavros Nicolaou, said the summit is a positive development as it elevates health as a social priority.

“From business’s point of view, universal coverage is an imperative, but it needs to be achieved through an inclusive process, where consensus is achieved through all four Nedlac [National Economic Development and Labour Council] social partners. The balance [must be] struck between affordable access for our citizens and ongoing sustainable health businesses that are able to serve patients’ needs [and] contribute to our country’s much-needed economic growth and job creation aspirations,” he said.

 SA Medical Association chairman Mzukisi Grootboom welcomed the Presidency’s acknowledgement of SA’s healthcare crisis, saying Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi had previously been reluctant to do so.

Cohen suggested the process for devising the compact be taken to Nedlac, as it has the appropriate skills and expertise. Shisana said Nedlac is not the right forum as it only includes representatives from business, labour and community organisations, and will not provide a voice for other important stakeholders such as academia and Chapter 9 institutions.

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