A health worker takes a break from her work at a temporary field hospital set up by Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Khayelitsha township near Cape Town, South Africa, July 21, 2020. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings
A health worker takes a break from her work at a temporary field hospital set up by Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Khayelitsha township near Cape Town, South Africa, July 21, 2020. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings

Hundreds of medical practices on the verge of collapse in SA

By Edward West Time of article published Jul 30, 2020

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CAPE TOWN - Hundreds of medical practices were on the verge of collapse because of a fall in the number of visits due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Nedbank National Manager for Medical Professionals Coenie Smith said yesterday.

While the number of Covid-19 cases in South Africa continues to climb at a rapid rate, and those on the front line work tirelessly to treat those affected by the crisis, others such as general practitioners, specialists and dentists have seen demand for their services reduce significantly.

This had led to a cash crunch, forcing some providers to scale back their businesses and lay off health workers, said Smith.

Recent South African Medical Association (Sama) statistics showed that private practices had, on average, seen a 60 percent decline in patient numbers during the hard lockdown, and although patient numbers had increased since then, they had remained 40-50 percent lower than normal.

The Bhekisisa Centre for Health Journalism reported that the South African Medical and Dental Practitioners Association, which has roughly 2 000 members mainly in historically under-served townships, had seen business halved on average during the pandemic.

Sama said on its website it had been engaging on multiple platforms to find solutions for the sustainability of private medical practices because of the dip in revenues for private practices.

In addition, the Council for Medical Schemes earlier this month had declined a proposal by private health sector practitioners, which would see medical aid schemes tap into funds, to help private healthcare practitioners stay afloat.

The lockdown has been especially harsh on businesses that require close contact, like dental surgeries, while others that have been able to remain open, had found that operating costs such as rent, staff overheads and additional cleaning materials had placed a significant demand on resources, said Smith.

Public confidence in making visits and the reduced capacity to adhere to social distancing measures in small spaces, had also affected private practice owners.

Smith said as lockdown eased, monitoring and protecting cashflow should be a priority for medical practice owners.

They needed to revise financial plans to ensure ongoing liquidity in the event of less clinical revenues and whole or partial closure of practice locations. A contingency plan based on minimum cashflow to stay afloat should be considered,

Medical practices have struggled financially also due to increases in expenses related to Covid-19, such as technology to support telehealth needs, remote providers or staff, and personal protective equipment (PPE).

The pandemic had created worldwide shortages of essential medical supplies, including PPE, which in many instances were now sold at marked-up prices.

Smith said it was essential for private practices to stay in touch with their financial services providers.

BUSINESS REPORT

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