Rolling out the National Health Insurance Fund blindly will have severe consequences for the country, the South African Society of Anesthesiologists (SASA) warned on Tuesday.
Briefing the media on the legislative changes expected in the country's healthcare system, the organisation expressed concerns that there would be a mass exodus of doctors and specialists if the new funding model was implemented recklessly.
"We need to ask ourselves how we are going to make NHI work when we do not have people to ensure that access is better," said the society's vice president, Dr Lance Lasersohn, who works as an anesthesiologist in both the public and private sector.
The organisation called a briefing, following reports in the Sunday Times that analysts had warned that state-regulated fees planned by the NHI would drive doctors out of the country.
According to a City Press report, once implemented, patients would reportedly be required to consult with NHI-accredited doctors and the NHI Fund would pay those doctors.
Business Live reported on its website that analysts anticipated a mass exodus following the deadline for responses to the white paper on the NHI, released by the Department of Health in December.
'Quality health service'
Last week, Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi detailed two bills at a briefing which aim to put in place a set of health financing reforms to provide universal healthcare.
During his presentation, the minister explained that an NHI Fund would be established as a public entity, which would be governed by the Public Finance Management Act.
The fund will be a single public purchaser and financier of health services in the country, to ensure "equitable and fair distribution", and will be a mandatory pre-payment health services system.
Healthcare services, medicines, health goods and health-related products from certified, accredited and contracted service providers would be financed by the fund.
It would "pool funds to provide access to quality health services for all South Africans based on their health needs and irrespective of their socio-economic status", the minister explained.
The ultimate goal of NHI is to ensure that everyone has the same access and standard of healthcare, regardless of their income. The NHI Bill will also require amendments to 12 other pieces of legislation in order to pave the way for an effective national fund.
Lasersohn said he knew and understood that the NHI's aim was to make healthcare more affordable for South Africans.
"It is also about providing the public with access to the healthcare not at a high quality but not at a low quality either," he said.
'482 people want to leave the practice'
Lasersohn added that the organisation conducted a survey on the cost of healthcare globally.
"In wealthy countries the government contributes a lot more, while in South Africa, in truth, government contributes about 4.1% and the rest (4.7%) comes from your pockets."
In 2015, there were about 8.8 million people on medical aid and R138.7 billion was paid in benefits. He said in South Africa, the service in the private sector was similar to the standards of wealthy countries.
On access to health care, he said the country could build state-of-the-art hospitals, but hospitals will not provide access, people will.
The survey found that 60% of people working in the public sector were willing to move over to the private sector because of better remuneration, better working conditions and better access to equipment, among other reasons.
They were however, concerned that moving to the private sector would threaten the clinical autonomy of the profession because it could be profit driven.
Lasersohn said he was also concerned about the brain drain following the uncertainty on the implementation of NHI.
"A total of 482 people want to leave the practice for various reasons, mostly uncertainty. We need time to develop the profession and deliver quality healthcare to the public."
'This is a problem'
Lasersohn said the NHI would work if the country went back to putting patients first and professionals second.
"This means high ethics and integrity when dealing with the public. We need to sort out governance issues and we need to be more sustainable financially. We cannot afford to ignore these threats.
"There is a perception that the NHI is the silver bullet, but we are saying there are consequences in rolling out the NHI blindly."
The society's CEO Natalie Zimmelman said the attitude towards NHI was overwhelmingly negative.
"This is a problem and we need to deal with it as professionals, clinicians and South African citizens."
She said one of the biggest concerns about implementation was the impact it would have on the professions workforce.
Zimmelman said organisations were willing to work with the government to find a lasting solution.