ROLES SWITCH BOOSTS HEALTH CARE HOPES: WEEKEND POST

DA spokesman for health Pine Pienaar welcomed the decision. “More people can be helped at clinics, which in turn takes some pressure off provincial hospitals.”

NELSON Mandela Bay’s primary health care will soon be in the hands of the local municipality, a move that some believe could spark a turnaround in health in the province.

Eastern Cape Health MEC Sicelo Gqobana confirmed yesterday that the Primary Health Care function was to be assigned to the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality.

He said negotiations were under way to finalise the matter, adding that the funds required to finance the service – which include clinic and other primary health services – would be transferred to the municipality.

It had also been decided that the Primary Health Care function would also be assigned to Buffalo City, which is set to become a metropole after the local government elections.

The decision will come as a major relief to the cash-strapped Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality.

It was facing the possibility of having to pay for the service following a warning from provincial Health Department Superintendent-General Dr Siva Pillay that the department would stop all funding.

In a letter to acting municipal manager Elias Ntoba, the SG stated: “It is our considered opinion that if the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality continues to provide primary health care services in January 2011, it may be an unfunded mandate. The municipality, to our understanding, acknowledged this risk.”

Pillay said the National Health Act defined municipal health services, which did not make provision for primary health care by the municipalities.

He said after the National Health Act had been promulgated, the “provincialisation” process had been challenged in court on more than six occasions with various arguments and all legal challenges, including the last one in December 2010 by South African Municipal Workers Union (SAMWU) and The Independent Municipal and Allied Trade Union (IMATU) challenging the process in Nelson Mandela Bay municipality, failing.

DA caucus leader Leon de Villiers also warned at this week’s budget and treasury committee meeting that unless there was a service level agreement in place “we will not be paid”.

Chief financial officer Kevin Jacoby said that the R43-million owed by the Health Department to the metro for the service up to the end of last year had now been paid. He stressed that the service was being assigned to the metro and this was “not a devolution of powers”.

DA spokesman for health Pine Pienaar welcomed the decision yesterday.

“This is a good move. The Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality has been doing well so far in terms of health service delivery despite struggling to get payment from the provincial department. This decision will bring much needed relief,” he said.

Pienaar firmly believed that by focusing on primary health care the Eastern Cape’s health problems could be rectified.

“More people can be helped at clinics, which in turn takes some pressure off provincial hospitals. It is much more expensive per bed at a hospital compared to the costs per bed at a clinic.”