Gauteng Premier David Makhura
Pretoria - Thousands of patients from foreign countries with unpaid health bills owed to Gauteng hospitals may be in for a surprise as Premier David Makhura plans to confront their embassies to recover the outstanding debts.

Makhura said the drive to force foreign countries to settle health bills on behalf of their citizens would assist in staving off the financial burden faced by hospitals and clinics in the province.

He disclosed this exclusively to the Pretoria News, but did not indicate the exact number of patients or the amount they collectively owed.

Makhura however estimated the percentage of foreign patients consulting health facilities to be about 35% of the total a year, saying most came from the SADC countries.

The Health Department was also under serious financial strain owing to debts incurred by other provinces, he said.

Patients from other provinces put the department under serious financial strain. “If you have a clinic facility in Cullinan, that facility may be serving people from as far as Pienaarsrivier in Limpopo.

“When I visit these areas, for example in Mamelodi, I am going to find patients from as far as Mpumalanga and Kwa-Mhlanga.”

Makhura warned that the department would run out of finances to maintain services of adequate and acceptable standards throughout the year if the problem was allowed to go on.

Limpopo owed Gauteng R12million and Mpumalanga owed R7m, he said.

In addition, North West owed a whopping R37m for their patients’ treatment in Gauteng hospitals.

Makhura also pointed fingers at universities in Gauteng for unpaid debts amounting to R900m, incurred as a result of training undertaken by students at government health institutions.

Regarding foreign patients, Makhura said: “We will be going to every embassy here in the capital because in our records we are pulling so many people from these countries that have accessed our health-care services. We will be going to these countries and ask that they give us the money.

“These are people from their country who accessed our health services.”

Poor countries unable to settle their citizens’ debts could go to United Nations’ funds.

“Otherwise we are crippling our health care sector. It just cannot cope,” he said.

Makhura explained that health institutions were in a predicament because they could not turn away patients on the basis that they come from outside the country or other parts of the country.

The constitution of South Africa prohibited the department from turning patients away, he said.

Underfunding of health care in provinces which experienced high volumes of patients was also a cause for concern. “This is an issue that we have raised before. Gauteng in that sense suffers double jeopardy.

“At one level there is underfunding (and then) there are foreign nationals some of whom are not paying.”

Pretoria News