A majority of Mangaung residents in the Free State have called for urgent strategies to fix the crumbling healthcare system to ensure that they receive quality services, especially at primary healthcare level. These sentiments where shared during public hearings on the National Health Insurance (NHI) Bill by the Portfolio Committee on Health at the Kagisanong Community Hall in Bloemfontein.

The committee was continuing its nationwide public hearings to hear if South Africans support the Bill and how it might need to be changed to ensure that it achieves its intended purpose. The Free State is the sixth province that the committee has visited in their public participation process.

While the majority supported the Bill, they raised concerns over various issues that hinder the delivery of quality healthcare currently. These include long queues at clinics and hospitals, the shortage of doctors and nurses, shortage of medication, and the poor attitude of healthcare workers towards their clients.

Mr Manyatso Mahlatsi from the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) drew the committee’s attention to the terrible state of infrastructure within the healthcare sector and called for urgency in resolving its challenges. “As Cosatu, we are 100% behind the implementation of the NHI. But we are concerned by some challenges that continue to impact negatively on provision of quality services.

“Our infrastructure in hospitals and clinics are experiencing acute backlogs in maintenance, which need to be sorted out. We hope that the NHI will have a transitional measure whereby the issue of the shortage of staff and refurbishment of healthcare facilities is going to be prioritised,” Mr Mahlatsi said.

Mr Mahlatsi also called for the establishment of a state-owned pharmaceutical company to ensure regulation of prices to avoid the depletion of funds due to high cost of medication from private pharmaceuticals.

For Mangaung resident Ms Esther Mjambane, she believes that this promise from the government of access to healthcare will be implemented, unlike the many other promises that have been broken before. “Currently we have to get to the clinic at seven in the morning, get a file only at 12. This in many cases means that you will not receive services at the clinic. We hope that NHI will assist in resolving these challenges,” Ms Mjambane said.

But residents where not all in support of the Bill, with many raising concerns about the susceptibility of the funds to corruption. For another resident, Bishop Malefane Matshitse, the NHI is bound to fail just like all other state-owned entities (SOEs). “SOEs have failed because of corruption. NHI will be another vehicle for corruption. As things stand, government is unable to handle healthcare. How will they handle NHI?”

 Mr Matshitse also questioned the constitutionality of the Bill, especially because it will limit the right to choice as guaranteed by the Bill of Rights. He further called for the resolution of current challenges facing the healthcare system before any consideration is made of the NHI. “We must fix the problems within the public system first. You can’t want code 14 when you have failed code 8 drivers licence. You must first fix the basics and then we can implement our new plan,” Mr Matshitse said.

The Chairperson of the Committee, Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo, said that issues raised by residents will be attended to by the provincial Department of Health. “Many people that spoke highlighted challenges they face on a daily basis when they visit healthcare facilities. The committee has committed to hold the department accountable and will invite, in the near future, the department to Cape Town to explain what they have done to resolve challenges faced in the department’s facilities,” Dr Dhlomo said.

The committee will continue its hearings in North West, Western Cape and Gauteng – the last three remaining provinces still to hold public hearings.

 Malatswa Molepo
30 January 2020