‘Unfeasable and very strange’: Lesufi’s bizarre promise to buy 18 hospitals in Gauteng

 ·22 Feb 2024

An expert has criticised Gauteng’s premier Panyaza Lesufi’s announcement that the province would buy 18 private hospitals – calling it nonsensical, unfeasible, and a very strange proposal to make, stopping short of labelling it an outright lie.

During his State of the Province Address (SOPA), Lesufi announced that the province would be purchasing 18 private hospitals to be converted into public hospitals as part of a bid to prepare for the National Health Insurance (NHI) scheme.

“We have just signed an agreement that will see the Gauteng government buying back 18 private hospitals in the province,” Lesufi said.

“We will convert these into public hospitals so that we are ready for the implementation of the National Health Insurance scheme.

“This investment with the National Worker’s Front will go a long way to ensure that the healthcare system is improved in our province,” he added.

Responding to the announcement, speaking to SABC News, Wits School of Governance expert Professor Alex van den Heever said nothing of what the premier said made any sense or is even doable.

“It’s a very unusual statement to make. He said the government would be buying back these 18 hospitals, but I know of no private hospital that the Gauteng department has previously sold – that’s the first thing,” said Van den Heever.

He added that this also shows that Lesufi doesn’t understand how the NHI scheme will work and the relationship it proposes to have with hospitals.

“The idea of NHI is that it can contract with private hospitals; these hospitals don’t need to be under any department of health,” said Van den Heever.

He added that the NHI is also likely to be tied up in legal action for a very long time, with the implementation of the scheme not being on the horizon anytime soon.

Another major problem with the proposal – depending on the size of the hospitals – is that 18 typical 200-bed facilities would require a capital cost of about R7.2 billion once-off.

Additionally, the recurring budget to maintain these hospitals would be approximately R5 billion per year, and the Department of Health doesn’t have the funds.

“I also see Lesufi noted a partnership with a labour union fund to purchase these hospitals, but I don’t know how these would become a Gauteng Department of Health asset using private funds,” added Van den Heever.

He noted a private fund can’t purchase an asset for a government department, and it would be a losing asset for any union fund to do so.

“The Gauteng government simply does not have the money to buy 18 hospitals, and I don’t see how they could ever find that kind of money.

“Even if they did, it would serve no purpose when the so-called NHI would be able to contract without having to purchase any hospital,” said Van den Heever.

He added that if the provincial government had R7.2 billion to spend on purchasing assets, it would make more sense to fix up the current hospitals and make sure they are fit for purpose.

“None of this makes any sense. The proposal is just unfeasible and a very strange one to make overall,” he said.

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