Columns 23.3.2017 05:31 am

Solutions needed to help SA’s ailing healthcare sector

Picture: Thinkstock

Picture: Thinkstock

Key players within the industry have used the blame game in the face of escalating problems.

Healthcare in South Africa is facing several significant problems and can even be said to be in a crisis. However, the South African Association of Anaesthesiologists (Sasa) believes the solution lies in better collaboration between the different parties in the healthcare sector.

The state of affairs has worsened over the past few years. Key players within the industry have used the blame game in the face of escalating problems.

Last month the Council for Medical Schemes (CMS) and the South African Medical Association (Sama) appeared before the Competition Tribunal to argue alleged price-fixing by specialists. CMS called into question Sama’s methods regarding the published regulations on how specialist doctors bill patients.

This follows recent media comments by Dr Kgosi Letlape, president of the SA Health Professions Council, calling for the abolition of medical schemes, saying they were a “crime against humanity”.

Then there has been the ongoing debate between doctors and the department of health about the availability of posts for doctors and pharmacists in the public service healthcare sector versus the willingness of medical professionals to take up the posts that exist.

With the vast number of stories on the topic of healthcare, too few have been purely solution-driven. Sasa believes there are two reasons for this. Firstly, the solution is not easy to identify.

Many countries, including the UK and the US (with vastly different healthcare models) are facing the same concerns with little in the way of effective solutions. Secondly, the South African healthcare sector is extremely fragmented with different role players being more adversarial than collaborative.

According to Sasa, the only way a solution can be found is by putting past battles and current vested interests aside and working together. If there is to be any hope for the future of healthcare in South Africa, it’s time we stop blaming each other and instead start working towards definitive solutions to pull us out of the situation we find ourselves.

The debate around improving healthcare has been largely polarised, with each option being vilified in support of another. This includes funding models in the private sector, the implementation of a universal health model and the rollout of the National Health Insurance (NHI) and even public/private partnerships.

In reality, Sasa argues, a successful model, or as close as we can get, can only be borne out of the best of all possibilities. We need to sit together and, without defensiveness, accept the good and the bad in all and, together, design a future for the country.

Sasa says “collaboration, effectiveness and transformation” between government, medical schemes, healthcare organisations and healthcare practitioners is what is required to take the healthcare system forward.

We have seen other sectors, such as the accounting profession, where all role players have come together to address their constraints. The Thuthuka model has been effectively used to transform the profession.

South Africa can and must do the same in the healthcare sector.

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