Private sector must help fix public health problems – Parliament

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The private sector can help government in improving healthcare access, Parliament's committee on health has said.

The committee chairperson, ANC MP Sibongiseni Dhlomo, on Tuesday issued a statement on the Health Market Inquiry report. The inquiry, led by former chief justice Sandile Ngcobo, looked into the state of competition in the private healthcare sector.  

The Competition Commission had tasked a panel of experts in law and health economics to conduct the investigation, after observing rising costs for healthcare and medical scheme cover, without there being any improvements in health outcomes to show.

The investigation took five years to wrap up.

On Monday, Ngcobo handed over the report to the Competition Commissioner Tembinkosi Bonakele and the Trade and Industry Minister Ebrahim Patel.

The inquiry found that the private healthcare market is highly concentrated with a few dominant players. Consumers are also "disempowered" and "uninformed" and there is little regulation in the sector.

Particularly the Department of Health had failed to use exiting legislation to manage the market, and hold regulators accountable, Ngcobo said.

These factors have resulted in the market not being "sufficiently competitive". For this reason the inquiry made recommendations to correct competitive distortions and improve access to and increase affordability of private healthcare, Ngcobo said.

In response, Parliament said it is still studying the findings to determining its role to transform conditions in the health sector. Committee chairperson Dhlomo acknowledged the inquiry's finding that government failed in its duty to regulate the sector and added that both the private and public health sectors had shortcomings.

"We need to have a new debate that says both private and public health sectors have got challenges as things stand, as a result we need to transform and get a new order in the healthcare delivery of the country," said Dhlomo.

Messages in the public domain that only public hospitals need to be fixed do not "hold water anymore", Dhlomo said. "We need to begin to say while we would urge government to fix public hospitals and clinics there is a role that the private health sector can play to clean its house."

Dhlomo added that government should work on issues related to regulation, over pricing, the lack of competition and over treating.

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