I attended the Portfolio Committee Meeting on 7 March 2012. This meeting was mainly administrative of nature with minutes been agreed and signed off.
An urgent matter on the agenda at the last minute was the completion of a Submission to the Presidential State Owned Entities Review Committee from the Portfolio Committee on Health.
Some interesting details that were discussed and shared were three entities that PC has oversight on namely the Council for Medical Schemes (CMS), the Medical Research Council (MRC) and the National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS).
For all 3 entities various challenges were highlighted and recommendations for going forward discussed. Below is a brief description of these areas. If anyone is interested in the full dialogue concerning the challenges and recommendation, please contact me directly.
Council for Medical Schemes (CMS)
The CMS was established in terms of the Medical Schemes Act and is the national medical schemes regulatory authority. The Portfolio Committee on Health has interacted with CMS regularly to discuss its Budget and Strategic Plan as well as to discuss its Annual Report. The primary vision of CMS for the medical schemes industry in South Africa is that it is fairly and effectively regulated to protect the interests of beneficiaries and promote equity in access to medical schemes.
The South African Medical Research Council (MRC)
The South African Medical Research Council (MRC) is a public entity. The MRC’s vision is to build a healthy nation through research. Its strategic objectives are to promote the improvement of health and quality of life through promoting and conducting research, providing professional support for research and translating its research into policy, products and health promotion .
The work of the MRC is conducted through council funded research units located within the council as well as in higher education institutions. The MRC conducts and funds national health research and supports research capacity development. The MRC has numerous Research Units which align to 14 health priorities namely.
- HIV and AIDS;
- Tuberculosis (TB);
- Cardiovascular Diseases;
- Infectious Diseases;
- Crime, Violence and Injury;
- Public Health;
- Health Promotion;
- Women, Maternal and Child Health;
- Brain and Behaviour;
- Genomics and Proteomics;
- Environment and Health; and
- South African Traditional Medicine;
National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS)
The National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS) is a public entity. It is the amalgamation of the former South Africa Institute for Medical Research (SAIMR), the National Institute for Virology and the National Centre for Occupational Health, university and provincial pathology laboratories.
The primary objectives of the NHLS are to:
- Provide cost–effective and efficient health laboratory services to all public sector healthcare providers;
- Support and conduct health research; and
- Provide training for health science education.
The key strategic objectives for the NHLS are to:
- Develop a new, more affordable service model for the public sector;
- Determine a best-fit service delivery model;
- Deliver a quality, customer focussed service;
- Align resources, support services and infrastructural development for service delivery; become the laboratory services’ employer of choice;
- Prioritise innovation and research to be relevant, appropriate and leading edge;
- Become the powerhouse of health information;
- Drive stakeholder collaboration;
- Position the service as the provider of choice for the national health insurance; and
- Protect the community and environment.
The NHLS’s strategic direction is aligned to the Department of Health’s 10 Point Plan. Priority programme services including HIV, TB and pap smear tests prices were reduced (by 5% on average) for 2011/12. The NHLS also piloted mobile health solutions in the Eastern Cape and Free State with the use of cellular phone technology for medical health workers to access patient results remotely. The NHLS also introduced the GeneXpert TB testing technology which dramatically reduces the time for diagnosis of TB which would normally take up to four weeks, to just two hours.
The Committee is satisfied that the entities delivered on their mandate, providing important services in the interests of the national priority of a long and healthy life for all South Africans. However, the Committee is concerned by the financial risk to the National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS) which provides critical diagnostic services to the country’s public health sector. The Committee is of the opinion that this threat to service delivery needs to be amicably addressed as a matter of priority. Furthermore, financial control weaknesses were noted in the Medical Research Council (MRC), as well as in the Council for Medical Schemes (CMS). Remedial actions proposed and reported on by the entities need to be implemented and will be closely monitored by the Committee. The Committee will be embarking on a review of health –related legislation, including those related to the entities reported on, to ensure that the intended purposes of the legislation are being achieved.