In this file picture, queues of people wait to be treated at Chris Hani Academic Baragwanath Hospital, Soweto. Picture: Dumisani Sibeko

Foreign nationals are burdening the South African health system.

SABCNewsOnline reports that Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said this on the second day of labour union, National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union’s (Nehawu) Nurses’ Summit in Johannesburg on Wednesday.

The purpose of the summit was to look at issues that nurses are facing, such as safety, training and the introduction of the National Health Insurance (NHI).

According to SABCNewsOnline, Motsoaledi said more hospitals and clinics were needed to accommodate all the local and foreign patients, adding that South Africa had to re-look at its immigration policies to control the number of undocumented and illegal immigrants in the country.

“The weight that foreign nationals are bringing to the country has got nothing to do with xenophobia… it’s a reality. Our hospitals are full, we can’t control them. When a woman is pregnant and about to deliver a baby you can’t turn her away from the hospital and say you are a foreign national… you can’t. And when they deliver a premature baby, you have got to keep them in hospital. When more and more come, you can’t say the hospital is full now go away… they have to be admitted, we have got no option – and when they get admitted in large numbers, they cause overcrowding, infection control starts failing.”

Overcrowding in neonatal wards has been blamed for the deaths of a number of babies who are exposed to infections in hospitals Six babies died of Klebsiella at Thelle Mogoerane's neonatal unit a few months ago.

Rahima Moosa Mother and Child Hospital also lost nine babies from Necrotising Enterocolitis (NEC) recently.

According to Motsoaledi, neonatal wards in Gauteng alone were 132% full but could not reject premature babies.

“That is why we also want the NHI – because we know that some of these services are there in the private hospitals but they are there for a select few. When you have got overcrowding like this, you must use all the facilities in the country – whether they are public or private. I can’t say 'this baby is about to die, he needs an ICU, there is no ICU in a public hospital' but the private hospital next door has got an ICU and this baby cannot go there because she belongs to a lower socio-economic class… that’s wrong – and that’s what we want to change on NHI which people are trying to run away from.”

Nehawu said it believes that the NHI will assist in improving its work and providing health care as it is expected to come with a larger pool of workers and resources.