One in five health-care professionals say National Health Insurance (NHI) is among the factors that have prompted them to take steps towards emigrating, according to a survey released on Wednesday by trade union Solidarity, which is campaigning against the policy.

A further 41.6% of the study respondents said they would take steps to do so if NHI is implemented, highlighting the extent of the negative sentiment confronting the government in some quarters as it embarks on sweeping reforms intended to achieve universal health coverage.

The first enabling legislation for NHI is contained in the National Health Insurance Bill, which is being processed by parliament. Parliament has called for written submissions on the bill and this week began holding provincial public hearings in Mpumalanga.

Solidarity sent survey invitations to 7,443 health-care practitioners in the public and private sectors, of whom 651 completed an online questionnaire.

Due to the survey methodology the respondents are not necessarily representative of SA’s health-care professionals.

Morné Malan, senior researcher at the Solidarity Research Institute, said the proportion of respondents who said they had taken steps towards emigrating is surprising and worrying.

“We’ve heard lots of stories, but this puts a real number to it,” he said.

Only 15% of respondents said they would definitely stay if NHI is implemented. Many people are concerned about problems such as crime and the poor state of the economy, but health-care professionals are also worried about the effect NHI would have on their daily lives, he said.

Solidarity launched a campaign against NHI in September, saying at the time that it would make its public submission on the bill in the form of court papers, to indicate its intention to launch legal action should the bill be passed in its current form.

Solidarity is prepared to take the matter as far as the Constitutional Court if need be, Malan said.

The survey highlighted deep scepticism of the government’s capacity to bring its ambitions for universal health coverage to fruition, with only 15% of respondents indicating that they believe the state can successfully implement NHI.

Almost 85% of respondents said NHI could destabilise SA’s entire health system and undermine the quality of care provided in the private sector.