Thursday, 31 March 2022 11:21

South Africa could face exodus of doctors ahead of planned NHI.

By Lehlohonolo Lehana.

Health stakeholders are concerned that South Africa could see an exodus of doctors and other key medical personnel ahead of the planned introduction of the National Health Insurance (NHI) scheme.

There is also a growing concern that the country could lose valuable training skills as professionals look to leave.

Briefing parliament on the scheme this week, the Department of Health noted these concerns, adding that the NHI will need skilled personnel to function. It said that this was not limited to healthcare professionals, but that general skilled human resources will be central to the health system going forward.

It added that the complex interactions between training, registration compliance and employment can all be substantially improved.

"This is a big ship that will need to be turned, but the framework is in place," said acting director-general of health Nicholas Crisp. "We have heard the threats that there will be an exodus of personnel if the NHI is implemented and a brain drain."

He said that the department is actively responding to this and that a framework is in place to ensure the country has the necessary skills, with his department developing a ‘Human Resources for Health strategy’ before the start of the Covid 19 pandemic.

This framework sets out a multi-work implementation plan, but it requires money and investment in the health workforce to ensure the country is ready for universal health coverage, Crisp said.

"Every health professional has a place in the National Health Insurance – whether you choose to work in the public portion of the delivery system or the private portion of that delivery system.

"We do not think there needs to be a threat on anybody, or their viability, or their role to be played."

The South African Medical Association (SAMA) has warned that thousands of doctors will leave the country ahead of the planned introduction of the NHI.

The not-for-profit group, which represents the interests of more than 12,000 medical doctors in South Africa, said that its members cannot support the NHI in its current form.

This is because of a deep-rooted lack of confidence in the capacity of government and its financial ability to ensure the success of the service, it said.

A survey conducted by SAMA showed that as many as 38% of its members plan to emigrate from South Africa due to the planned introduction of the NHI.

6% of members said that they plan to emigrate for other reasons, while 17% of doctors said that they were unsure about leaving the country.

A number of doctors have said that the focus should first be on fixing the public sector to a point where it can begin to appeal to private sector patients.

They added that there should be engagement with private doctors to provide additional services funded by the state. The group also called for a proper pilot of the proposed systems and payment mechanisms.

A recent poll run by BusinessTech, which drew over 3,600 responses, had 45% of respondents indicating they would make plans to leave the country should the NHI be implemented. 27% said that they were already considering a move.