Scrap Parmed scheme for government VIPs and let ministers rely on public hospitals, says union

An ambulance escorted by police vehicles

The SA Medical Association trade union says the public healthcare system continues to crumble because top government officials rely on private healthcare. File Picture: Phill Magakoe

Published Feb 6, 2024


A trade union in the health sector believes there is no political will to speedily resolve the perennial problems bedevilling South Africa’s public hospitals, including the shortage of doctors.

Dr Cedric Sihlangu, chairperson of the South African Medical Association Trade Union (Samatu) said problems, including the lack of medical doctors to attend patients, cannot be resolved because the people wielding the political will are unaffected by the rot.

“This requires political will. If it were for us, we would just scrap the Parmed (medical scheme) that the parliamentarians and the executives enjoy. They have these sophisticated medical schemes which, when they go to private hospitals, they get treated like royalty, and because of that, they preside over the public health, but they do not subscribe to it,” Sihlangu said in an interview with broadcaster Newzroom Afrika.

“What that does is, it removes any exigency, any urgency to resolve the problem. They can dispense with the situation as it is because when a minister’s child needs healthcare attention, they go to a paediatrician – this is a specialist for babies. When the average layperson needs healthcare, they cannot find a generalist, a GP.

The trade union says politicians are most unlikely to get treated at public hospitals such as the Steve Biko Academic Hospital in Tshwane, since they have a top-notch medical aid scheme that shelters them from the rot. File Picture: Oupa Mokoena / Independent Newspapers

“That tells you that the people who are in charge of the system, they do not subscribe to it. They have no motivation to act with speed and resolve the problem. We need to scrap these things and say: if you are a parliamentarian, a president or minister, you are not going to utilise private hospitals, but use the same hospitals you are presiding over,” he said.

The Parmed medical scheme on its website states that it is open to all serving and retired members of the National Assembly, National Council of Provinces, legislatures of provinces, the president, the deputy president, ministers, judges of the Constitutional Court, appeal court and high court.

Health Minister, Dr Joe Phaahla. File Picture: Jacques Naude/Independent Media

On Monday, IOL reported that Health Minister Dr Joe Phaahla addressed the topical matter of unemployment among medical professionals in South Africa, saying government just does not have the money to hire them.

Speaking at a press briefing, Phaahla said that this year, the South African Medical Association and its trade union counterpart submitted the names of 825 doctors to the Health Department, with the department confirming 694 as recently qualified and seeking employment.

“What I'm saying is that we're not in the best of situations,” Phaahla admitted about the high number of unemployed doctors.

“We would have preferred a situation where we were able to provide opportunities for everybody who wants to serve in the public service,” he said.