President’s health blueprint put on hold until January
President Cyril Ramaphosa’s ambitions of getting a blueprint for fixing SA’s health system in the next two weeks has hit a stumbling block.
The Presidency has delayed the signing of this "health compact" until the end of January, spokesperson Khusela Diko confirmed. Healthcare professionals had complained that the deadline was unworkable.
The commitment to crafting this plan emerged from a two-day health summit convened by the president in late October, which drew 600 delegates from the public and private healthcare sector as well as labour and civil society organisations.
The gathering was cast as a high-level meeting to thrash out ideas for tackling the crisis confronting SA’s public health system, which is grappling with corruption, staff shortages, and stock-outs of even basic medicines such as contraceptives.
However, there is growing disquiet and suspicion that the government is seeking to spin the event to create the impression that participants endorsed its National Health Insurance (NHI) plans.
NHI is its flagship policy for achieving universal health coverage, and its first piece of enabling legislation is due to be tabled in cabinet next week.
Health minister Aaron Motsoaledi told Radio 702 earlier in November that the summit had given NHI the green light.
"Everybody endorsed NHI and said it must go ahead," he said at the time.
Fazel Randera, a member of the Progressive Health Forum, said focus should be rather spent on multiple crises facing the health service, rather than the NHI.
"At the end of the summit we were given a slide session summary of what had come back from the various commissions.
"One read that there should be one health service for one country and that NHI was no longer a debate.
"Now there was no discussion on those particular points," said Randera, who is a member of the summit task team chaired by presidential advisor Olive Shisana.
A power-point presentation titled "Way forward health summit", provided to Business Day after the summit, said participants were "committed to one country one health system", and that universal healthcare coverage "is not negotiable and NHI is a means to get there".
The SA Medical Association (Sama) was so concerned about the December 10 deadline that it convened a meeting of more than 60 associations representing healthcare professionals a fortnight ago, at which they resolved to seek a four-month extension.
Sama chairperson Angelique Coetzee said the deadline had been unrealistic as the views of more than 100 healthcare associations and societies needed to be canvassed.
The health system had to be fixed before implementing NHI, she said.
Separately, Motsoaledi issued a statement on Wednesday defending the government’s handling of the NHI Bill, which has been mired in controversy after a leaked Treasury letter revealed it was butting heads with Shisana over a host of measures she and her team had changed after the public comment period closed in September.
Motsoaledi said he rejected "with contempt" reports of alleged irregularities in the manner in which the legislation was being processed.