An Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) proposal for the government to establish 24-hour clinics in South Africa is unaffordable, Parliament heard on Wednesday.
EFF made the proposal via a private member’s bill submitted to Parliament by MP Suzan Thembekwayo earlier this month.
The bill seeks to amend the National Health Act to compel clinics and community health centres to operate throughout the day and all days of the week.
Currently, public clinics and centres mostly operate during weekdays between 07h00 and 16h00. Outside these hours, patients often have to visit hospitals that may be far from their residences.
‘Desirable, but unaffordable’
The Health Department’s chief director for district health services, Ramphelane Morewane, told Parliament that while it is “desirable” to provide for 24-hour clinics, the current economic challenges make it unaffordable.
“The bill in its current form will have massive financial implications. The country is currently under financial stress and would struggle to adjust the current budget against the health requirements as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said.
Morewane added that the government remains committed to the progressive realisation of 24-hour healthcare throughout South Africa, but this process is dependent on resources being available.
15 percent of the country’s 3,474 primary healthcare facilities currently operate 24 hours a day, he said. Many provide emergency services after normal working hours.
Scores of the clinics run by metropolitan municipalities are also open for 24 hours. For instance, 13 out of 116 clinics do so in the City of Johannesburg, while the figure is 11 out of 45 in the City of Cape Town, Morewane said.
ANC MPs in the portfolio committee on health also poured cold water on the EFF’s bill, citing cost and human resource constraints.
When she first presented the bill, Thembekwayo conceded that the proposal has significant resource implications.
“However, what the bill purports to do easily counter-weighs any cost constraints, and the department must be in a position to progressively build these additional posts into their budgets,” she argued.