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‘Cost containment’ will add to health woes – Phaahla

Health Minister Dr Joe Phaahla has said that although budget cuts are understandable, the public health sector was “very sensitive” to these and already under pressure from a growing burden of disease.

He also said the 7.5% staff increases would make a sizeable dent in the already constrained budget, reports Daily Maverick.

At a meeting last week with the media, he expressed concern that “cost containment” measures ordered by the National Treasury would have a negative impact on the quality of services, but added that “as long as there’s an understanding [that] there’s a limit” to what the health system can bear.

On the effect austerity would have on the right to access healthcare services, he said he preferred talking about “cost containment” rather than “austerity”.

His department had been raising concerns about budget cuts “continuously”, he added, even before the current Treasury “instruction” which, he revealed, was amended this week to be “advice” to departments — perhaps reflecting the growing pushback from within and without government about the consequences of austerity on social services.

“Anything that speaks about cutting expenditure is a red flag – we’ve said that to the Treasury.”

He said the health system “lost ground as a result of Covid-19”, mentioning HIV, TB and “an explosion of mental health issues and substance abuse” as areas where the health system was particularly affected.

Last Wednesday, he met senior managers in the Department of Health, including the director-general and chief finance officer, to “see where we can contribute to cost containment without significant risk”.

Mentioning planned cuts to travel and meeting costs among these, although he would not disclose figures, he added that they had also met statutory bodies like the Medical Research Council, National Health Laboratory Services and the Office of Health Standards Compliance to request they make savings.

‘We will feel the pinch’

However, the budget cuts came with a price for quality healthcare, he admitted.

“Our biggest expenditure is human resources, and we will feel the pinch of the 7.5% salary increase,” which amounts to an extra R8bn per annum.

Without additional funding from the National Treasury, that money had to be found from the existing budget.

“It’s unavoidable that some posts will not be filled, and there might be cuts to budgets in areas like hospital infrastructure.”

Ironically, he said this while stressing the need for Johannesburg hospitals that had been affected by water shortages to include the building of water storage containers in their business plans, “although that will take away from other necessary upgrades”.


Daily Maverick article – Health minister warns of negative impact of ‘cost containment’ on quality of healthcare services (Open access)


See more from MedicalBrief archives:


Phaahla defends R26bn spent on prepping for NHI


SA needs R200bn to fix hospitals before NHI roll-out, says Phaahla


Government slashes already under-funded health budget


Crisp says Health budget has to be bigger if NHI goals are to become a reality






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