The question of doing away with components of the non-combat service of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) has been raised from time to time since democracy. Now with budgets tighter than ever and expected to become even more so it’s time to face reality.
This opinion comes from Democratic Alliance (DA) parliamentarian Kobus Marais, who in an official party preview for the coming year put forward the transfer of South Africa’s three military hospitals to provincial health departments.
“Reducing the SA Military Health Service (SAMHS) to a strategic and military base auxiliary service will immediately save R3 billion in the Department of Defence (DoD) budget,” he maintains.
Elaborating, he told defenceWeb 63% of the SAMHS budget goes to cost of employees (CoE) and its “most expensive personnel are in the three military hospitals”.
“It’s common knowledge the military hospitals are under-utilised due to resource constraints and in the case of 1 Military Hospital in Thaba Tshwane, the poor physical state of the hospital and its infrastructure,” he said, pointing to the ongoing refurbishment project which has been “in process” for more than 10 years.
“A few billion Rand is going to be needed to finish work at what was the prime military medical facility in southern, if not Africa.”
The multi-storey hospital building on the northern side of Thaba Tshwane at one stage boasted a burn unit that, a previous surgeon-general told this writer, was the “envy” of many hospitals in the private sector. It also housed a VIP section where local senior government officials, including then State Presidents, Prime and Cabinet ministers as well as foreign representatives received medical care and treatment. The downward spiral of the VIP section is best illustrated by government speculation in the early 2000s for a VIP hospital with operating theatres, high and intensive care wards and a heliport to be built at Bryntirion, the exclusive government housing enclave for Cabinet Ministers and senior government officials adjacent to the presidential residence Mahlamba Ndlopfu, in Pretoria.
On the remaining military hospitals – 2 in Cape Town’s Wynberg and 3 in Tempe, Bloemfontein – Marais said both require “a few billion Rand” and this funding is “just not there”.
He is also concerned SAMHS is not retaining the skills, especially in specialist areas, because these highly qualified medical care practitioners are leaving due to lack of opportunity to practise their specialist skills.
SAMHS, according to Marais, has a personnel complement of 7 282. This includes 1 509 “medical professionals” and 1 460 nursing staff.
Taking the three military hospitals away from the defence budget will save R3 billion immediately with the added extra of a reduction in the DoD CoE bill, he maintains. Marais’ proposal is for the buildings, facilities, equipment and personnel of all three military hospitals to become part of the provincial hospital “fleet” in their respective provinces with SAMHS becoming “a strategic and military base auxiliary”.