No miracles, minister warns of NHI

2012-03-24 15:19

Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi has warned that South Africans should not expect miracles when the National Health Insurance (NHI) pilot project is launched next week because it will have little impact on them.

This week, announcing the 11 districts earmarked for the pilot project, Motsoaledi said: “The first five years of the NHI will focus on establishing building blocks in preparation for the full roll-out.

“The only change people living in the selected districts will witness from next month will be the strengthening of the health systems through infrastructure revitalisation and improving service delivery by hiring clinical specialists,” according to Motsoaledi.

More than 80% of South Africa’s population relies on the public health system, and many people were expecting dramatic, immediate changes when the NHI pilot project launches on April 1.

Motsoaledi said the perception among some public healthcare patients was that they would immediately be able to visit private doctors without paying upfront.

This is one of the guarantees laid out in the NHI green paper, which was released last year – but it refers to a system that will only be put in place in a few years’ time.

The NHI is a government scheme which aims to ensure that everyone living in South Africa has access to quality healthcare, irrespective of race or socio-economic status.

The scheme is supposed to be phased in over 14 years and is designed to work more like a medical aid in future.

Eventually, patients will be able to visit private doctors and hospitals without paying upfront. The doctors will then claim from the NHI fund.

Motsoaledi said the service agreement with the private sector was still part of the plan.

“It’s just that it may take time. I cannot say it will happen now, or in May, but it will happen if doctors are willing,” Motsoaledi said.

He said he was planning to visit the selected districts this week and would speak to private doctors practising in these areas.

The 11 districts are:
» OR Tambo (Eastern Cape)

» Gert Sibande (Mpumalanga)

» Vhembe (Limpopo)

» Pixley ka Seme (Northern Cape)

»
Eden (Western Cape)

» Dr K Kaunda (North West)

» Thabo Mofutsanyane (Free State)

» Tshwane (Gauteng)

» uMzinyathi, Amajuba and uMgungundlovu (KwaZulu-Natal)

Motsoaledi said: “I am going to ask the doctors to assist clinics by working at least three to four hours a day (in the clinics).”

The delay in contracting private doctors is not the only aspect of the first phase of the NHI that has hit a snag.

District clinical specialist teams consisting of gynaecologists and paediatricians should have been appointed in December.

Failing this, the minister was supposed to reach an agreement with medical universities to send professors to districts on a rotational basis until the permanent positions were filled. However, this has not happened yet.

The DA’s Patricia Kopane, who speaks for the party on health issues, said she was concerned that a number of process listed in the green paper had not been completed.

But she said: “The DA welcomes the rolling out of the pilot project as it is an essential step that will test if the public health system can function properly.”

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