SOUTH AFRICA – South Africa’s Health Minister Joe Phaahla has announced that the new National Health Insurance (NHI) scheme is set to be introduced in several stages designed to pool funds to provide quality affordable health services access for All South Africans based on their health needs.

The first phase of the National Health Insurance scheme implementation involves strengthening health system initiatives such as alignment of human resources with that which may be required by users of the Fund, irrespective of their socio-economic status.

The pilot phase will also encompass the development of National Health Insurance legislation and amendments to other legislation along with purchasing of personal health care services for vulnerable groups including children, women, people with disabilities and the elderly.

The mission of the National Department of Health is to improve health status through the prevention of illness, disease and the promotion of healthy lifestyles, and to consistently improve the health care delivery system by focusing on access, equity, efficiency, quality and sustainability.

Health Minister Joe Phaahla explained that it was crucial to introduce the national health insurer scheme in phases given the magnitude of reforms the new system will introduce, noting that a programmatic approach was required based on the financial resources available.

Joe Phaahla observed that it is important to recognize that reforms of the magnitude anticipated in the NHI Bill need to be phased in over time, stating that the current status and availability of resources and capacity are only a starting point for the new NHI.

The resources available for the establishment of the reformed health system, where providers are paid by the fund, are the current resources of the entire public and private health sectors. This includes all health establishments, personnel and technologies currently in use,” Joe Phaahla pointed out.

He called for commitment, stewardship and invaluable support of Parliament of South Africa to build capacity for the national roll out of the reforms described in the NHI Bill intended to improve the health system for all.

He revealed that leadership will be provided by the National Department of Health, adding that the Minister of Public Service and Administration has approved a special transitional NHI Branch in the Department of Health to serve as the incubator for the Schedule 3A entity.

The new posts appointed in the special transitional NHI Branch will initially be financed through earmarked funds from National Treasury. The NHI envisages a ‘universal’ system for everyone in the country where the NHI Fund purchases services from both public and private providers,” Joe stated.

He pointed out that private medical aids and hospitals are set to be scrapped under the new health system, adding that healthcare infrastructure will have to rapidly expand and scale services to cope with treating all South Africans.

Health Minister Joe Phaahla recently revealed that about 6.5 million people needed care for common mental disorders in South Africa but there were only 19 000 beds for psychiatric patients in the entire country.

The mental health crisis is due to the country’s economy in tatters, unemployment lines growing daily and severe systemic failures in almost all public sectors and state-owned enterprises coupled with massive shortages of psychiatric specialists in the public health services.

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