Government does not believe it can wait until the healthcare system is improved before implementing national health insurance, Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi has said.
The minister was speaking at a briefing at Tuynhuys, Parliament, where the report of the outcomes of the presidential health summit, held late last year, was released.
During his address on Tuesday, Motsoaledi said government would be taking significant steps towards implementing universal healthcare.
Last week, president Cyril Ramaphosa said that the National Health Insurance Bill would be tabled before Parliament this year.
NHI will ensure that South Africans can receive free health services at the point of care at both public and private quality-accredited healthcare service providers, Motsoaledi said.
NHI is a proposed state-run health financing system that aims to pool funds to provide access to quality health services for all South Africans regardless of their economic status.
Mostoaledi commented that most of the criticism of NHI is that people are calling for the current healthcare crisis to be addressed before NHI should be implemented.
'A lifelong thing'
"[There are] many people who are worried, or believe we are not ready, and believe we must improve public healthcare first before implementing NHI… We reject that view in totality," Mostoaledi said.
"At no stage of any nation would anyone stand up and say the public healthcare system has finally been adequately improved. It is a lifelong thing. Even in advanced economies, no one can say they have successfully improved the healthcare system and now we will move onto the next step."
Mostoaledi referred to the UK, which implemented universal healthcare 70 years ago, a few years after the war. "At the time, the healthcare system did not exist. Britain was battered by the Second World War. I was informed that Britain was on the brink of bankruptcy when they introduced universal healthcare," he said.
"Even up until today, they (Britain) are still improving the healthcare system."
Motsoaledi said that Britain had not stopped improving its healthcare system over the past 70 years.
He also used SA as an example, referring to when government started rolling out anti-retroviral treatment for HIV infected patients. If government had to wait for the healthcare system to be more stable before doing that, then it would have collapsed by the sheer amount of people who would have become ill due to a lack of treatment, he argued.
Motsoaledi said that government would continue to solve problems as they occurred, and do he same with NHI.