Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi. Picture: PUXLEY MAKGATHO
Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi. Picture: PUXLEY MAKGATHO

HEALTH Minister Aaron Motsoaledi on Thursday took a swipe at South Africa’s biggest private hospital group, Netcare, saying he had told former Lesotho health minister Mphu Ramatlapeng that her government’s plans to enter into a public-private partnership with the JSE-listed company in 2009 were doomed to failure.

Netcare came under fire from Oxfam this week for its involvement in the Tsepong consortium, which partnered with the Lesotho government to build and run the Queen Mamohato Memorial Hospital (QMMH) in Maseru. While it is providing dramatically better services than the 100-year-old Queen Elizabeth II Hospital it replaced, Oxfam and an independent study by Boston University have questioned its financial sustainability.

Oxfam said the hospital had claimed half the Lesotho health budget for the fiscal year ending March 31 and threatened to divert resources from other programmes, particularly those serving the rural poor.

"When the minister of health in Lesotho came to invite me for (the launch of the project), I told her it’s not going to work," Dr Motsoaledi said at a pre-election debate hosted by Soul City.

"In South Africa, it’s already been tried in Inkosi (Albert) Luthuli (Central Hospital). That is one of the best public hospitals of the country, by the way. When you go in there, you leave very excited. But go and look into the money and try to run other hospitals like that. They will all collapse. So it’s not an accident that they (Lesotho) are paying 51% of the budget on one hospital … Even if it’s 35%, that is still too high," he said.

The QMMH is the only tertiary hospital in Lesotho, and provides services that were previously unavailable, such as care for low-birth-weight babies and magnetic resonance imaging.

Dr Motsoaledi said the three private hospital groups listed on the JSE put investors before health.

"Nobody on earth goes to the stock exchange without looking for profit. When you do that, you can’t consider health, you consider profit margins because you’ve got investors," he said.

"If you subject our healthcare to … profit margins, it will collapse, and that’s why we’re being careful about this issue of (the) private sector."

Lesotho’s budget speech for the 2014-15 fiscal year shows the allocation for the QMMH and its four associated clinics is 554-million maluti, or 32.6% of the healthcare budget. However, Oxfam said actual expenditure on the QMMH for the 2013-14 fiscal year had come in at 714-million maluti, or 51% of the 1.4-billion maluti health budget. Lesotho health ministry operations adviser for health planning and statistics Majoel Makhake conceded that the hospital had cost more than expected, saying this was due to higher than anticipated demand.

South Africa’s R140bn health budget for the 2014-15 fiscal year sets aside R24bn, 17%, for tertiary hospitals.

Netcare declined to respond to Dr Motsoaledi’s comments. Earlier this week, Netcare CEO Richard Friedland said his company was deeply committed to the project. "We can see the difference this healthcare system has made in the lives of the Basotho people who use it."

"According to a report by the Gauteng Legislature’s Health Committee, the Folateng wards in four Gauteng public hospitals ran at a loss of about R40m in 2012," said Mr Bloom in a statement.

"My estimate is that more than R500m has been lost in this failed experiment over 10 years. I have repeatedly called for a forensic audit of these wards which should be closed as soon as possible," he said.