NHI rollout could be delayed - Motsoaledi

National Health Insurance (NHI) projects will be put on the back-burner as the health department has to reprioritise its budget, Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said.

The minister was speaking to journalists on the sidelines of the University of Stellenbosch Business School event on Thursday.

During his address earlier on Thursday he said that Treasury had essentially cut back allocations to the health department by R9bn since 2015, while State subsidies and medical tax credits for private healthcare users grew by R11bn.

Given the reduced budget allocations, the health department had to "go back to the drawing board" to decide which treatments to prioritise, he explained. Having spoken to former finance minister Nhlanhla Nene and Treasury Director General Dondo Mogajane about the need to improve staff recruitment, it was decided the health department would reprioritise monies intended for NHI to recruit over 2000 healthcare professionals and purchase beds and linen for hospitals in dire need.

The plan to recruit more healthcare workers and buy linen is part of reforms included in the economic stimulus package.

During follow-up questions by journalists about whether Treasury had been protecting the health department, Motsoaledi said this had not been the case.

"I can assure you, there was no protection for health," he said. Budget cuts have affected health care infrastructure and human resources, he explained.

When asked if he was happy about the changes which have come about because of the economic stimulus package, Motsoaledi said he is not and that he has no option.

Part of the money given for NHI is now going towards the objectives of the stimulus package - Motsoaledi described it as government taking away from the same hand they had given to.

"It is not new money. I would have been happy if it was new money for the stimulus, but it is money which was given for NHI projects, and then you have to delay them, unfortunately."

Averting crisis

Motsoaledi said that the country is better off if the health department keeps existing services going, as opposed to taking them away in favour of introducing new services in line with NHI.

He said that he held back on spending the R4.1bn NHI money, because he was warned as early as May that reprioritsation would be on the cards.

"If we rushed and used the money for new things, and then all of a sudden we have lost all the old service delivery that was there - it would have been a crisis for the country."

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