That GP contracting cannot happen in a vacuum and that the procurement and contracting of specialist services should be through global tariff mechanisms are among the lessons government has learned from the COVID experience, Health Minister Dr Joe Phaahla acknowledged during the SA Health Industry Summit earlier this week.

“GP contracting,” he admitted, “is an area in which we have not done very well in the last couple of years when we’ve been running some pilot programmes for the proposed National Health Insurance.

“We have learned that the GP contracting cannot happen in a vacuum and requires to be part and parcel of a comprehensive health service. We also learned that the procurement and contracting of specialist services should be through using global tariff mechanisms as a preferred route for managing these contracts so that they can be more comprehensively managed.”

Also apparent, Phaahla added, was that the costing of the private hospital bed a day and individual services “can be quite complex”, complex costs sometimes very difficult to quantify: “As a result of this we have seen a situation where especially our private providers then retreat to existing tariffs when trying to work on the costs incurred.”

He went on to reiterate that the pandemic has also highlighted the necessity for partnerships not only to help the country to rapidly improve in delivering of services and finding solutions for the most pressing problems, but also to ensure continuity of essential services.

“Despite the challenges which have been presented to us by the COVID pandemic, for the government making the most of these partnerships remains a critical part of our agenda if we are to deliver the best possible good quality services for all our population.”

All role players, he said, must accept the norm now that health services should not be viewed simply as a consumption expenditure but should be looked upon as a major investment: “This investment should be viewed  not only in terms of an improvement of quality of life socially, but also we believe, for the stability and growth of our economy.

“We’ve seen how a disease in the form of a viral infection can be so disruptive not only to social life but also to economic life. So,” Phaahla concluded, “we believe that a major lesson then for all of us both in the public and private sector is that investing in good quality health systems is not just good for social life but is also good for the growth of our economy!”