The South African Society of Anaesthesiologists (SASA) says while
it welcomes any initiative to bring parity to healthcare, and looks forward to
working with the Health Department as NHI becomes a reality in South Africa, it
is essential to ensure that there are sensible, rational and, most of all,
clear steps for the plan’s implementation.

Speaking at a media conference, SASA CEO, Natalie Zimmelman,
urged government to see the Society and its clinicians as an ally to achieve
the common goal of affordable, equitable healthcare in South Africa. She said
South Africa was in an exceedingly vulnerable position as regards specialist
anaesthesiologists and anaesthetists. “Policy makers and the owners of
private-sector healthcare alike must invest in ensuring the profession grows to
serve the needs of the nation.”

 Spread of
anaesthesiologists and anaesthetists in South Africa gives evidence of
healthcare inequity. 71.8% of anaesthesiologists and anaesthetists work in
Gauteng and the Western Cape, with 83.5% of all the clinical specialists doing
duty in one of the country’s large cities. Fewer than 3% of the country’s anaesthesiologists
service small towns and villages. More than 75% of all the country’s
anaesthesiologists are employed in the private sector.

 “But,” Zimmelman
said, “the NHI Bill is going to create exciting new channels and avenues for
discussion. Anaesthesiologists want to help to improve the situation in South
Africa. NHI offers an opportunity to strengthen the district healthflow and
rationalise the use of regional hospitals. NHI gives us an opportunity to have
a frank and realistic conversation with the National Department of Health to
invest in and enhance skills. SASA looks forward to working with the Department
to invest in anaesthesiology skills for the medium- to longterm.”

South Africa presently has 1379 anaesthesiologists and
anaesthetists working across public- and private sector hospitals, but to
service the population and patient load, the country needs 2826 anaesthesiologists
and anaesthetists, meaning that there is a shortage of almost 1500. This is
where attention should be focussed to address the crisis of health equity in
the land, Zimmelman said.