Pretoria – Foreign embassies in South Africa must be billed for the treatment patients from their countries in Gauteng province, the DA said on Monday.
“This is a practical way to deal with the issue of foreign patients overburdening Gauteng hospitals that has recently been highlighted by a video of pregnant women sleeping on the floor at the Rahima Moosa Mother and Child Hospital in Johannesburg,” said DA’s Gauteng health spokesperson, Jack Bloom.
“Some years ago the Gauteng health department claimed that they were going to bill foreign embassies but nothing seems to have come from this.”
The discourse around overcrowding at public health facilities, and the influx of foreign nationals to the government-run institutions was reignited over the weekend by a trending video of pregnant women lying on the floor at the Rahima Moosa Mother and Child Hospital in Johannesburg.
Amid the furore caused by the video, City of Joburg’s MMC for Health and Social Development, Ashley Sauls, said the hospital is burdened by undocumented migrants, who often live far away.
The DA highlighted that the legal position is that pregnant women who are in labour cannot be refused access to care as it is an emergency condition.
“While most foreign patients live in South Africa, there are many cases where pregnant women from surrounding countries come to a South African hospital specifically to give birth,” said Bloom.
“The proportion of foreign births at some Gauteng hospitals is more than 25% of total births, so it’s a significant burden on our public health system.”
Bloom, a member of the Gauteng Provincial Legislature, said he would be asking questions on whether embassies are being billed for foreign patients, “and if not, why not”.
Earlier, the SA Medical Association (Sama) decried the treatment of patients at the Rahima Moosa hospital, following the trending video.
On Monday, Sama chairperson Dr Mvuyisi Mzukwa said hospitals in South Africa cannot be expected to treat patients based on nationalities.
“Government cannot expect clinicians to be chasing away foreign nationals. It is not our domain. All we do as clinicians, if we see a patient who needs medical attention in a hospital premises, we just offer that service without asking any questions. We are not the Department of Home Affairs,” Mzukwa told IOL.
“We do not deal with immigration or whatever. We do not even want to know whether a patient is an asylum-seeker or whatever. Once you are in hospital premises and you are sick, all we do is to give you medical attention.”
Mzukwa said the issues of immigration and the influx of undocumented immigrants clogging the system at public health facilities is not for hospitals to fix, but for the government to engage the nations where the people are coming from.
He said even though lying on the floor may not put the unborn children in danger, the situation seen at the Rahima Moosa hospital was “inhumane”.
“Nobody deserves to be treated in that inhumane way. We always encourage patients to complain if such things happen to them. Nobody wants their wife or sister or other relative to be treated like that. Government needs to change the way it treats people, not to come with excuses and say that is because the system is flooded by foreigners. That is not a new thing,” said Mzukwa.
“Once people are in an institution, they need to be treated with dignity, and that is all we are saying.”