Public vs Private: Massive investments in the former still fail to attract Patients

Despite a significant proportion of the population qualifying for free care, patients in South Africa still prefer to attend private sector facilities.

This is according to Statistics South Africa’s General Household Survey (GHS) of 2015, in which user satisfaction surveys revealed that only 57.6% of patients in the public sector were satisfied with the services provided. But the satisfaction rate among those attending private sector stood at 91.9%.

“It’s clear that the demand for access to quality healthcare is growing, but private medical insurance options, which are the main vehicle for accessing private healthcare, are frequently out of reach for many South Africans,” says Jason Urbach, Director of the Free Market Foundation of South Africa.

Approximately eight million South Africans have expensive private healthcare while 42 million people rely on an under-resourced public sector.

Stepping into the fray to assist government by providing solutions to working individuals who cannot afford a medical aid and are unable to make use of free clinics due to long waiting periods, The Medical Society is making great strides in delivering affordable quality primary healthcare to communities with little or no access to private medical facilities, through a growing number of strategically located centres around the country that offer a wide range of basic medical and full in-house pharmacy services to the general public.

The Medical Society is expanding rapidly in response to demand, having launched in 2016 with 3 centres and now grown to 12, with a further 3 under development.

The centres are located at Impala near the platinum mine, Marikana and Rustenburg in the North West; Pretoria, Kempton Park, and Soweto in Gauteng; Bloemfontein in the Free State; Port Elizabeth, East London and Mthatha in Eastern Cape; Durban in KwaZulu-Natal; and Bellville in the Western Cape. They will soon open three additional centres in Polokwane in Limpopo, Mbombela in Mpumalanga, and Alexandra in Gauteng.

The centres offer comprehensive services that include examinations and consultations, dispensing of up to Schedule 4 medication, basic procedures such as suturing, health checks, child healthcare and growth monitoring, acute illness management, chronic illness monitoring, advice, prevention, youth health services (including health education on HIV/Aids, TB, teen pregnancy, substance abuse, and sexually transmitted illnesses), basic eye tests, healthcare advice, as well as referral services to nearby doctors or hospitals should the need arise.

Centres are headed by Clinical Associates or Community Nurses to provide the healthcare services, as well as a centre supervisor to handle administration and general management.

The Medical Society is available for R 89 per month. Membership is currently close to 16 000 and growing at a rapid pace. The centres are also open to the general public at about 60% of the cost of a visit to a General Practitioner, to Affinity Health policy holders, and all medical aids.

The Medical Society centre visits are growing fast, at a rate of up to 300 per month, mainly through word-of-mouth within the serviced communities. “In January this year our 12 clinics recorded close on 3 000 visits as opposed to 322 patient visits in January 2017, when we had only four centres open,” says Jeremy Lemmetjies, General Manager of The Medical Society.

The Medical Society centres are established in various locations, generally near high transport hubs, and primarily within shopping malls which offer easy access by public transport, security, and convenience.

Looking ahead, Lemmetjies says consideration will be given to PPPs (Public-Private Partnerships) to support government efforts to deliver quality primary healthcare to all communities in South Africa with infrastructure, training, management, and system controls. “Last year government announced plans to increase its use of PPPs to deliver projects, and our model and operating systems are designed to meet many of the primary healthcare needs around the country.”

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