EASTERN CAPE WILL REALISTICALLY NEVER BE READY FOR THE NHI

With an ever increasing health care infrastructure backlog of more than R19 billion, there is realistically no chance that the Eastern Cape Department of Health (EC DoH) will EVER be ready for the planned roll-out of the NHI (National Health Insurance) unless drastic measures are taken immediately.

In a sitting of the Eastern Cape Health Portfolio Committee in the Provincial Legislature yesterday (subs: 15 May 2012) it was confirmed by the Department of Health that the current health care infrastructure backlog is sitting at R19,169 billion and increasing at an alarming rate.

Health care infrastructure not only includes buildings, but also includes important machinery and equipment such as X-ray machines of which there is already is a need of at least 27 more in the province.

The figures speak for themselves. The EC DoH currently has assets to the value of about R22 billion. General maintenance and upkeep of these buildings, equipment and machinery would run at approximately R1 billion per year. Currently, there is only R200 million budgeted for the maintenance and upkeep of the existing infrastructure, meaning that the backlog increases by at least R800 million every year.

The ANC-led Eastern Cape government has seen it fit to decrease the Health budget for the second year in a row, this time by over R400 million to the current R15.1 billion.

The Democratic Alliance (DA) is in support of affordable universal quality health care for all, especially for the poorest of the poor, but before we make promises to those who do not foresee the consequences, we need to ensure that our current health care infrastructure and its service delivery is at the very least up to par.

For the Eastern Cape to be even slightly prepared for a successful roll-out of the NHI in 14 years time, we need to be currently increasing our health care infrastructure, yet in the Eastern Cape we are not even slowly catching up, we are steaming ahead in the opposite direction.

As the DoH SG, Dr Siva Pillay explained, that in year two of the 14 year planned roll-out, the National Minister of Health will call for infrastructure backlog assessments from all the different provinces with the vision of the national DoH assisting provinces in need. Every province in South Africa is sitting with a backlog and it will be unrealistic for the backlogs of all the provinces to addressed, especially with a backlog the size of that of the Eastern Cape.

It is imperative that the department immediately re-looks its budget and implements extreme austerity measures to reroute more funds into decreasing the existing backlog while maintaining current infrastructure. More funding needs to be sourced from both the Provincial- and National Treasury. We need to start requesting this extra funding before the other provinces start knocking at those doors.

Billions can be saved and redirected by just rooting out the thousands of corrupt officials that milk the department every day, streamlining the excessively bloated administration and ensuring that money is spent wisely and more prudently. Yet, the EC DoH is already struggling to pay its existing doctors and nurses, while not even being able to consider filling the 27 000 clinical staff vacancies. Undoubtedly a miracle will be needed for health care to progress positively in the Eastern Cape.