SA needs ‘thousands more specialists’ for NHI

About 2 000 more anaesthesiologists will have to be trained, which will cost about R6.6bn over the next five years, according to Sasa.

South Africa would have to train thousands more specialists in order to meet the demand the National Health Insurance (NHI) is expected to place on the industry.

With the debate over the introduction of the NHI raging among stakeholders, the South African Society of Anaesthesiologists (Sasa) yesterday said the country needed to train close to 2 000 more anaesthesiologists.

Faced with an estimated 482 specialist doctors “vulnerable to move or leave the country,” training anaesthesiologists would cost an estimated R6.6 billion over the next five years, according to Sasa CEO Natalie Zimmelman.

The organisation represents 90% of all South Africa’s specialist anaesthesiologists and anaesthetists.

While it welcomed any initiative to bring parity to healthcare, and is “looking forward to working with the national department of health to make the NHI a reality”, Zimmelman said it was “essential to ensure that there are sensible, rational and – most of all – clear steps for the implementation of the NHI”.

“We have seen how issues that are unclear create immense administrative burdens on patients, practitioners and cause great fear when people do not know what is coming next,” said Zimmelman.

There was no “doubt that South Africa bears the burden of health inequity”, she said.

“Sasa urges government to see Sasa and its clinicians as allies. Together we can achieve the common goal of affordable, equitable healthcare in South Africa. Our relationship with the department is good, but it can be stronger. We believe that a spirit of partnership will do much to change the narrative of healthcare in South Africa.”

She said the country was “in an exceedingly vulnerable position” regarding specialist anaesthesiologists and anaesthetists.

“Policy makers and the owners of private-sector healthcare alike must invest in ensuring the profession grows to serve the needs of the nation.”

Fewer than 3% of South Africa’s anaesthesiologists serviced small towns and villages, while more than 75% of all the country’s anaesthesiologists were employed in the private sector.

Zimmelman expressed hope that the NHI would “create exciting new channels and avenues for discussion”.

“Anaesthesiologists want to help to improve the situation in South Africa, and the NHI offers an opportunity to strengthen the district health-flow and rationalise the use of regional hospitals.

“It gives us an opportunity to have a frank and realistic conversation with the department of health to invest in and enhance skills.

“Indeed, Sasa looks forward to working with the department to invest in anaesthesiology skills for the medium to long term.”

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