Johannesburg - A staggering 79% of private sector and 59% of public-sector anaesthetists in South Africa believe the introduction of the proposed National Health Insurance (NHI) scheme will be detrimental to their specialised profession.

These alarming statistics were revealed on Tuesday by the South African Society of Anaesthesiologists (Sasa); a body which represents roughly 90% of the 1 379 specialists in both the public and private sectors. 

Sasa was reacting to Health Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi publishing the NHI Bill for public comment this month, which seeks to provide universal health access to South Africans. 

Lance Lasersohn, vice president of Sasa, as well as Natalie Zimmerman, who is the lobby group's chief executive, both asserted that their organisation was emphatically behind the provision of universal healthcare in the country.

However, both leaders said the well-being of the scarce human resource should be paramount in implementing the NHI, where both government and the professionals should find common ground.

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"Building more hospitals will not provide (increased) healthcare for people; we need people working inside those hospitals. Our universal access will be dependent on human resource," Lasersohn said.

His views were echoed by Zimmerman, who said there was a death of workforce in the country. 

Research from the World Health Organisation (WHO), which Sasa provided, showed that there 3.2 nurses per 100 000 citizens; and 60 doctors per 100 000 citizens, according to an Econex report.

In terms of anaesthetists in the country, Sasa added, the country has a ratio of 2.51 professionals per 100 000 people, which is below the 5 specialists required per 100 000 citizens as stipulated by the World Federation of Specialised Anaesthesiologists. 

The NHI scheme seeks to ensure that citizens, certain permanent residents, asylum seekers and refugees have healthcare access from accredited public and private medical service providers.

Motsoaledi believes that, for the scheme to work, "the rich must subsidise the poor, the young must subsidise the old and the healthy must subsidise the sick".

"Any health system where the better paid, employed people and the affluent have a separate healthcare system based on medical schemes, while other citizens are left in a separate system, is a recipe for disaster," Motsoaledi said this month. 

But Sasa leaders said they didn't want to be obstructionist in the implementation of the NHI and wanted to find solutions together with government, the placing of patients first, professionals second and the profit agenda last.

"We need to find the solutions that will work to provide healthcare to our country. But we must be rational in the way we come up with solutions," Zimmerman stressed. 

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The Star