Healthcare must come before profit

01 July 2019 - 08:36
By the editorial
Image: 123RF/everydayplus

A 53-year-old mother has died of suspected kidney failure because of a fight between her medical aid and a medical technologist.

The fight meant she could not get a life-saving dialysis session.

Her family is now contemplating taking legal action against Discovery, the medical aid scheme involved, but the company insists her death should squarely be put at the medical technologist's door.

The constitution and the National Health Act stipulate that no one may be refused emergency medical treatment.

For the deceased's family, the words of the constitution and the act ring hollow. If she, with medical aid, could be refused life-saving treatment, what of millions of South Africans who cannot afford medical schemes?

According to the Council for Medical Schemes, only 8.8-million - out of over 50-million - South Africans were on medical aid in 2015. The number has reduced given the shrinking economy and rising unemployment.

Discovery blames Nokwazi Primrose Sithole for refusing to treat the patient.

Sithole says she could not continue treating Discovery members because the scheme owes her R20,000.

Discovery says it refused to pay after an investigation confirmed claims of fraud and that there was evidence of staff with no experience providing dialysis to patients without supervision.

The matter is clearly going to be taken up by the Health Professionals Council of SA and, if the deceased's family goes ahead with legal action, by the courts.

While these institutions deal with this specific case, we ought to discuss how we protect citizens against private institutions and individual practitioners who put profit ahead of the right to healthcare and medical treatment.

It is cases like these that show that those who argue for the introduction of a National Health Insurance, as way of ensuring universal healthcare, are not totally off the mark.

Public hospitals might not be in great shape right now, but if keeping the private healthcare sector thriving means that patients can be refused treatment even when they are up to date with their contributions, then maybe we are better off investing in a universal and public health scheme that guarantees treatment for all.