Private healthcare a 'sick situation' – Motsoaledi

Cape Town – There is no plan to abolish private healthcare in South Africa, Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said on Friday, despite raising concerns about the exorbitant prices charged by the country's private hospitals.

Motsoaledi was making a presentation at the Competition Commission’s Market Inquiry into the Private Healthcare Sector where, he said, private hospitals seemed to focus on the healthcare of a select few.

The Competition Commission of South Africa has been conducting a series of public hearings which started on February 16 and ended on Friday.

He said the department's definition of health completely differed to that of private hospitals.

Motsoaledi said he was not fighting a war against the private sector, but slammed them for being the cause of a number of issues within the health sector.

“We are running a healthcare system where the poor do not get what they need, while the rich get much more than they need. Which means there is over-servicing of the rich and a gross under-servicing of the poor.”

The minister detailed some of the cost differences between private and public healthcare in the country.

Medical circumcision, for example, cost R1 121 if performed by a general practitioner.

Private hospitals charge R7 130 for the same procedure, the commission heard.

Motsoaledi said there was no clinical reason for this difference.

He made comparisons of procedures, including CT scans for abdomens, pelvises and MRIs, which cost more in South Africa than in the US.

For bypass surgery, angioplasty and hip replacements, the country came second to the US in prices.

He said a lot of money paid to the private healthcare sector was mostly used for administrative purposes.

'A sick situation'

The minister said there was no need for brokers and yet they got a bigger share than GPs.

“It’s a sick situation,” he said.

Anban Pillay, deputy director-general for regulation and compliance in the Department of Health, made an example of the high number of C-sections performed by private hospitals over natural births.

He said there was a 75% C-section rate in the private sector and this was a matter of supplier-induced demand.

“Does this mean there is suddenly something wrong with South African women that 75% are giving birth via c-section in private hospitals?”

Motsoaledi said there were two things that needed to be changed, as directed by the National Development Plan.

These were the quality of service in the public healthcare sector and the exorbitant prices in private healthcare.

Another monster in the public healthcare system was the Remuneration for Work Outside the Public Service, he said.

Academics left teaching and training to treat patients in private hospitals, which meant medical students were not getting all the benefits they needed.

The private sector was always complaining that the department did not produce enough doctors and yet it was involved in taking academics away from the classrooms.

“They are the cause of this problem and it’s a very big problem for me,” Motsoaledi said.

One of the main problems in the public healthcare system was human resources; the wrong people were hired for jobs for which they weren't qualified, he said.

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