THE government wants to use the newly launched Academy for Leadership and Management in Healthcare to set benchmarks, norms and standards for the leadership and management of hospitals in South Africa.

The Department of Health kicked off an orientation week for the academy in Johannesburg on Monday.

Hospitals in South Africa face severe challenges such as staff constraints and fraud. The Eastern Cape health department lost R1.4bn to fraud over the past three years, according to an audit report on the province’s hospitals, which was released at the weekend.

Minister of Health Aaron Motsoaledi said at the launch of the academy that hospital CEOs were key to addressing such problems and that he expected that no person would become a hospital CEO or manager without first having attended the academy.

The academy, which was announced in November, aims to equip hospital CEOs with the necessary expertise to run these institutions efficiently. A total of 102 CEOs were invited to take part in the orientation week.

Dr Motsoaledi said the academy was launched in response to a human resources report on health strategy, which proposed an institute for the leadership and management of South African hospitals.

He said the Department of Health had to find strategic solutions to backlogs in the sector before pouring in financial resources.

"Some would ordinarily ask for an increase to the health budget, but this does not always work. Even our 10-point plan (for the improvement of the health sector between 2010 and next year) starts with leadership, not with money," Dr Motsoaledi said.

The academy — to be chaired by Prof Marian Jacobs of the University of Cape Town — will eventually set norms and standards in healthcare management and accredit courses, the minister said.

"The academy will be a virtual structure that will set standards and accredit programmes," Prof Jacobs said on Monday. "It is important to note that we are not looking for CEOs to be empty vessels. This won’t be a sitting down and imparting of skills. These leaders have vast experience. We will combine their experience to have an exchange of ideas."

She said the academy would play an important role in improving healthcare in South Africa.

"In a week we hope to sit with the CEOs and find out what they want to get, as their needs will vary. Some may need to learn more about financing and other could utilise the networking opportunity this brings," Prof Jacobs said.

Dr Motsoaledi said problems in South African hospitals often related to leadership and management, rather than staffing.

"If your community complains that the quality of service and attitude to patients at your hospital is rotten, I take it as a reflection on the CEO and not the workers," he said. "As the CEO you are the leader and should do something."

Regarding the audit report on the Eastern Cape health department, Dr Motsoaledi said he first had to study the report before making any statements or decisions.