The appointment of a Ministerial task team to investigate aspects of the military health system in South Africa came after the financial year end and well before the Department of Defence issued its annual report for 2013/14, which shows SA Military Health Services (SAMHS) is not well at all.
“The change in footprint and the increase in the potential patient load have compounded the challenges of SAMHS,” the report states.
It goes on to point out SAMHS’ capability is “over-stretched” and this in turn impacts on the service’s ability to perform healthcare services simultaneously during deployments, undertake force preparation and “render” healthcare services in static healthcare facilities.
“The demand for operational emergency care practitioners outweighs current capability. Personnel turnover remains high in spite of efforts to recruit and retain healthcare practitioners,” according to the Military Health Support section of the annual report.
That top management of the medical arm of service of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) is worried about meeting the demands placed on SAMHS operationally can be seen from the statement that “additional ordered commitments may compound operational fatigue of the current group of operational emergency care practitioners. SAMHS cannot rely on the scarce skills of emergency care personnel in the Reserve Force as these members are in high demand in public and private emergency care services”.
As far as providing healthcare to airmen, sailors, soldiers and their families as well as military veterans and their dependents is concerned, the report notes SAMHS reliance on the outsourcing of healthcare to external service providers “may increase as a result of the misalignment between the patient footprint and the accessibility of military healthcare facilities”.
A further illustration of the downward trend at SAMHS facilities was published in Pretoria News this week under the headline “1 Military Hospital in ICU”.
According to the paper the hospital, once a centre of medical excellence, “is slowly crumbling under alleged mismanagement of funds and acute staff and equipment shortages”.
This, it continues, is in spite of an injection of more than R120 million for upgrades five years ago.
“Unfinished renovations and staff shortages have prompted an investigation by government into the hospital and other military health facilities,” the paper reported.
In April this year Defence and Military Veterans Minister, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, said she had appointed a task team to ensure SAMHS’ three hospitals can function at optimum levels. The task team was set to report back to her at the end of six weeks of investigation but this was expanded to allow it to investigate other aspects of military healthcare. This included that available to SANDF members deployed continentally and internally, particularly on the border protection tasking, Operation Corona.
At the time of publication a general media statement on the work of the task team, originally set for release at the beginning of October, had not yet been issued and a media briefing by the Minister on the same topic was also cancelled at short notice.
SAMHS costs, as per the SANDF 2014 annual performance plan, amount to R4.3 billion. The medical arm of service was allocated R3.5 billion by then Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan in his national budget delivered to Parliament in February.