As the country faces a health crisis brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, the government is pushing forward with plans to move towards a new National Health Insurance (NHI), says health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize.
Presenting his updated department budget vote in a virtual parliamentary meeting on Thursday (23 July), Mkhize said that a fundamental condition for growth and development is a healthy and productive population, with access to quality and affordable health care.
He added that his department has put great effort into improving health service delivery to prepare for NHI and achieve universal health coverage.
“Covid-19 has illustrated just how important data and information are in managing health decisions,” Mkhize said.
“We are pleased that during the past few months the NHI information systems capacity has been augmented, strengthened, and dramatically improved.
“The investments made in these improvements will all remain and enhance the capability of the department to manage the health system into the future.
“We have established a patient registry through the deployment of the Health Patient Registration System in our PHC facilities and Hospitals. To date, a total of 51 909 554 patients have been registered.”
Mkhize said that his department has also developed a health systems dashboard which will soon go live.
“This system will support the government with early warning signs in surveilling hospital infrastructure, alerting us to impending critical mass reach in various areas of our operations, and giving us an opportunity to respond before there is a crisis on the ground,” he said.
The health minister said that his department has also prepared a proposal for resolving health infrastructure backlogs in preparation for the NHI.
“This proposal will also play a significant role in job creation and stimulating economic growth and transformation of the construction sector,” Mkhize said.
“We believe that this health infrastructure programme will improve public confidence in the public health care system, improve the morale of personnel and better staff retention because of a safer clinical environment.
“We have now started engaging key stakeholders including the National Treasury and the Development Bank of South Africa to develop strategies to accelerate this programme.”
Mkhize said that before the Covid-19 pandemic, extensive consultations were already underway even with the private sector, potential investors and provinces.
“The health infrastructure commitment remains. And Covid-19 has taught us that time waits for no man. If we are to achieve our infrastructure goals, we need to do so and move with speed,” he said.
The importance of the NHI
Mkhize has previously said that South Africa should look to come out of the coronavirus pandemic with ‘a legacy of advancing the ideals of universal health coverage’.
In a June webinar, he noted that the pandemic has tested even the most recognised universal health coverage nations like the United Kingdom, much of Western Europe, China and Japan.
“Even the toughest of economies have scuppered in the face of Covid-19. South Africa already faced huge challenges without the introduction of Covid-19.
“The realisation of the National Health Insurance has been a road hampered by opposition, and a fundamentally flawed system that is being protected by those that benefited from it.
“Although the annual budgets of the private and public sectors are similar, the private sector only serves 16% while the public sector serves 84%,” said Mkhize.
“With such inequality, the public health care system has suffered in the sheer weight of the burden while the private sector was characterised by over-servicing in the face of rising and escalating health care costs.”