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Healthcare beyond the ballot: post-election insights from Profmed CEO

24 June 2024 Profmed
Craig Comrie

Craig Comrie

During the election season, healthcare rose to prominence thanks to the elevation of the National Health Insurance (NHI) Bill, and with it, the prompt signing of the bill into law.

Whether this was merely electioneering, or a genuine commitment to the sector’s future remains to be seen, but Profmed CEO Craig Comrie believes the country should seriously consider "healthcare beyond the ballot", especially in the face of a changing political landscape and the necessary reforms to make healthcare more affordable.”

“The elections placed unprecedented emphasis on healthcare, with the NHI becoming a focal point in many campaign platforms. However, undue focus on the NHI may have overshadowed other critical aspects of healthcare.”

Comrie believes South African healthcare system challenges are multifaced, demanding comprehensive strategies that go well beyond one solution. He highlights some challenges and provides solutions to fix healthcare in a post-election South Africa:

GNU vs NHI
With a Government of National Unity (GNU) officially in power, the fate of the NHI still remains uncertain. Comrie highlights that the success of the NHI will depend on the ability to align on healthcare priorities and make practical steps towards improving healthcare service delivery.

"A new government brings diverse perspectives, which can be beneficial, but it also requires consensus-building. The NHI's if implemented will need clear policy direction and collaboration across political lines, however there is a possibility and further risk that the essential healthcare reforms, not NHI, also get neglected " he explains.

Seeding Healthcare Conversations in the New Political Landscape
For healthcare to thrive in the new political environment, it must be woven into the broader policy discourse. Comrie advocates for integrating healthcare discussions into all aspects of governance including economic reforms that drive growth.

"Healthcare should be a constant agenda item and not a consequence of unrealist policy making or political promises that inevitably will further harm the electorate. We need continuous dialogue and practical actions to improve the system," he asserts.

Reflecting on the election campaigns across multiple political parties, Comrie observes that while healthcare received attention, it was often superficial. "Many parties mentioned healthcare, but few offered detailed plans. We need more than slogans; we need actionable policies," he states.

Comrie envisions an election cycle where healthcare policies are backed by research and successful pilot programs that are deeply scrutinised and can be scaled into viable solutions. Solutions such as improving leadership and management in the health system in general while encouraging the development of centres of excellence in the public sector thereby attracting private paying medical scheme members will alleviate the pressure on the public purse.

Beyond the NHI: Comprehensive Healthcare Strategies
Comrie emphasises that while the NHI is a significant step in our healthcare narrative, he warns it should not be viewed as a panacea for all healthcare ills.

"The NHI is not the only way to achieve universal healthcare coverage, and other models that could be implemented more quickly and effectively," he suggests. "Funding is not the only challenge. We need to consider global best practices and adapt them to our context. That means more rigorous debate is needed."

In the immediate post-election period, Comrie stresses the need for practical measures to improve healthcare. "NHI in its current form will take more than a decade to implement and only if there are additional taxes available to fund this ambitious initiative. More immediate intervention and reforms must address current issues like affordability and supply constraints relating to healthcare professionals. Low-cost benefit options in the private sector can also make a significant impact and will remove the demand for primary healthcare pressures from the state in a more efficient manner by directing these high frequency lower cost services that can be accessed at local clinics, GP’s and pharmacies in the public or private setting," he proposes.

Moving Beyond Political Rhetoric
Comrie argues that healthcare should transcend political rhetoric. "the health consumer has been ignored in the philosophies and slogans. We need practical solutions and skilled implementers, not just policymakers with pens," he asserts. "Empowering healthcare consumers and focusing on preventive care are essential steps forward that don’t necessarily get their due attention as healthcare talking points."

To achieve sustainable healthcare improvements, Comrie advocates for a collaborative approach. "We need a health compact – a 'Healthcare CODESA’ if you will – where all stakeholders, including consumers, work together to find solutions outside political agenda’s," he proposes.

The Path Forward
As South Africa navigates a new government contruct, Comrie's insights emphasise the need for a balanced, practical approach to healthcare going forward. "Dreams of universal healthcare coverage must be matched with action. The people must win, regardless of who is in power," he concludes.

To further unpack these issues, Profmed will be hosting a free webinar on the 25th of June, 2024 to engage in discussions with SAMATU, CMS as well as Dr Moratwe on the future of healthcare in a post-elections South Africa. Entitled ‘Healthcare Beyond the Ballot”, the webinar will be open to the public.

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