A mother holds her child while she is screened by a clinical worker. Picture: BLOOMBERG
A mother holds her child while she is screened by a clinical worker. Picture: BLOOMBERG

THE national Health Department is in talks with the National Treasury about funding community healthcare workers, Parliament heard on Tuesday.

The Health Department’s deputy director-general for primary healthcare services Jeanette Hunter told the portfolio committee on health that a community healthcare worker policy had been drafted, but that it needed to be funded before it could be implemented.

The policy covers pay, conditions of services, and how community healthcare workers are to be deployed, she said.

The National Development Plan considers community healthcare workers integral to the country’s primary healthcare services, and says SA needs 700,000 by 2030.

But the role of SA’s estimated 70,000 community healthcare workers is currently unclear, as there is no national policy, and provinces therefore vary in their approach to using them.

There were violent protests in Gauteng recently after its health department contracted an external service provider to manage its community healthcare workers.

Gauteng health MEC Qedani Mahlangu told MPs the province originally used the services of community healthcare workers employed by non-governmental organisations, but after 2012 contracted with them directly.

The provincial government’s subsequent decision to outsource the payment and monitoring of community healthcare workers to a company called Smart Purse had been opposed with violent protests, but it remained committed to using an external service provider, she said.

"We remain resolute that for anyone getting government money. (We) must have systems to ensure they are working – previously some were not," she said.

Mahlangu said the protests had since stopped, service disruptions had been minimised and 6,125 community healthcare workers had been contracted with Smart Purse. The aim was to reach 9,274 by the end of August, she said.

Mahlangu also told the committee that the Gauteng health department was on track to receive an unqualified audit from the auditor-general for the 2015-2016 financial year, its first in more than seven years.