Private Doctors Should Cough Up Bill to Control Use of State Facilities By Private Practitioners

A clause in the new National Health Bill which restricts private doctors using state facilities when treating private patients has found some support from two previous ministers of health, who however suggested that the clause be amended to provide that private doctors pay a fee when consulting private patients in state facilities. The Bill prohibits health practitioners from practising in state hospitals or other state health facilities without authorisation from the minister. It also reads that a health practitioner who is not in full-time employment of the state may not engage in treatment of patients or perform a procedure in a state hospital or state health service except with the written authorisation of the minister. The Bill is set to make Namibia have its own indigenous National Health Act.

Dr Nickey Iyambo and Dr Libertine Amathila, who were both health ministers previously, when contacted for comment on the Bill this week said private doctors cannot be stopped from using state facilities but insisted that private doctors be compelled to pay a fee when using such facilities.

“It will be suicidal for us to prohibit private doctors from making use of hospital facilities because there is a lack of specialists in the public health system. Of course this cannot be done for free but I am sure there is a fee which the doctors are charged to make use of hospital facilities,” said Iyambo.

Amathila, who said she was yet to see the Bill currently under discussion in the National Assembly, said she hoped the Bill also makes provision for a law compelling private doctors to pay a fee for using state facilities.

“We cannot stop them from using state facilities because they are treating our people, but they must be compelled to pay, they cannot use state facilities for free,” said Amathila.

At present private doctors are not directly billed for using state facilities, instead it is the medical aid schemes that settle the bill for the facilities which private doctors make use of when treating private patients at public hospitals. “They do not pay, only the medical aid pays. Even at private hospitals like Rhino Park the medical aid pays the doctor and for the facilities used,” the health ministry’s public relations officer, Ester Paulus, explained to New Era yesterday.

Iyambo said the health ministry is responsible for the health of Namibians, therefore whoever can provide medical service should be allowed to do so.

Although the health minister is the only official who can authorise the use of state hospitals by private doctors, the Bill makes special provision for emergency cases. “The superintendent of a state hospital may, in the case of a patient requiring emergency treatment, permit a private health practitioner to treat that patient in the state hospital without the minister’s authorisation,” reads a part of the Bill.

Iyambo is also worried about the absence of specialists within the public health system even though government spends millions on health training.

“You need to remember that we are living in a democratic country, so even if you train people and they work for the state, you cannot prevent them from opening their private practice if they so wish,” he said.

Amathila further says it is also not fair that state doctors, those with their own practices, spend more time at their private practices than attending to state duties. “There are some state doctors who have their private practices, yet you find that they spend more time doing their private work instead of doing government work. I hope the new law will look into all these things,” she said.

Source : New Era