Picture: 123RF/LANGSTRUP
Picture: 123RF/LANGSTRUP

SA’s largest umbrella body for doctors in private practice says the recent measures suggesting the government consider regulating where they work could drive scarce skills overseas.

The Board of Healthcare Funders (BHF) is an industry body representing medical schemes and administrators. On Friday it published research highlighting the uneven geographical distribution of healthcare professionals working in private practice, and recommended the health department revisit regulations requiring doctors to obtain a “certificate of need” or ministerial approval prior to practising.

These regulations were set aside by the Constitutional Court in 2015.

The SA Private Practitioners Forum’s CEO Chris Archer said if the government tried to compel doctors in private practice to work in underserviced areas, it would in all likelihood prompt people to emigrate.

It would be far better to devise incentives to encourage people to work in such regions, he said.

Archer said that government intervention should focus on health-care facilities rather than on individuals.

“Hospital licensing at a national planning level would make a lot more sense because it would provide a holistic view of what was required in various areas,” he said.

The BHF’s research showed almost half (22,802) the health-care professionals in private practice in 2017 were in Gauteng, which is home to about 40% of SA’s medical scheme members. Its analysis was based on the Practice Code Numbering System (PCNS) database it manages on behalf of the Council for Medical Schemes.

Health-care professionals in the private sector need a PCNS number for patients to claim from their medical aids.

The BHF found a 52% increase in active health-care professionals registered on the PCNS over a 17-year period, rising from about 36,000 in 2000 to 54,800 in 2017. The number of medical scheme members increased from 7 million beneficiaries in 2000 to 8.9 million in 2017, a growth rate of just 27%, suggesting there was scope for doctors to overservice patients, said the BHF.