Doctors’ ‘certificate of need’ plan shelved

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Durban - The Department of Health has decided to shelve plans to regulate where doctors may practice – at least temporarily.

In late May, President Jacob Zuma signed into law long-dormant sections of the National Health Act that would give the director-general of health the power to deny doctors operating licences depending on where in the country they wished to operate, open or expand a practice.

Following Zuma’s promulgation, doctors would have had to apply to the Department of Health for a “certificate of need”, or permission to work in an area, by April 1, 2016.

Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said the introduction of certificates of need was meant to address health inequalities between rural and urban areas.

“(Netcare) Park Lane Clinic (in Joburg) has more gynaes than Limpopo and Mpumalanga provinces put together,” Motsoaledi said in the South African Medical Journal.

“It will be difficult to force them to move – but should we allow more gynaes to move into that small space called Park Lane? I don’t think so.”

The South African Medical Association (Sama), the South African Dental Association, and specialist body the South African Private Practitioners’ Forum have all vocally opposed certificates of need and were considering Constitutional Court litigation against the department over the matter.

Director-general Precious Matsoso has been consulting doctors and health professionals on the matter.

According to Department of Health spokesman Joe Maila, feedback from the consultations informed the department’s decision to withdraw the proclamation.

“The director-general consulted interested parties extensively over the past few weeks,” he said.

“Interested parties requested that we allow adequate time for the drafting of regulations and subsequent engagement, first arguing that the 24-month time limit in the act would unfairly pressurise them.

“The director-general considered their submission, which led to the decision to request the withdrawal,” he added.

Sama has welcomed what spokesman Mzukisi Grootboom called a “stay of execution”, which he attributed to advice from the state attorney.

“It became quite clear when we engaged with the department that they had been given some wrong advice, which I think is a pity,” he said. “The way those sections (of the National Health Act) have been written is problematic.

“They must go back to Parliament and someone has got to write them properly,” said Grootboom, who added that, while introducing regulations would help clarify some of the sections, they would not address fundamental flaws.

In a statement, DA heath spokesman Wilmot James has echoed Sama’s call for the matter to return to Parliament for further discussion.

Health-e News Service.

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