THOUSANDS of patients from foreign countries with unpaid health bills owed to Gauteng hospitals may be in for a surprise, as Premier David Makhura plans to confront their embassies to recover the outstanding debts. Makhura said the drive to force foreign countries to settle health bills on behalf of their citizens would assist in staving off the financial burden faced by hospitals and clinics in the province.
He did not indicate the exact number of patients and the amount they collectively owed. Makhura, however, estimated that the number of foreign patients consulting at healthcare facilities to be around 35 percent a year, saying most of them came from Southern African Development Community countries. He said the Gauteng health department was also under serious financial strain owing to debts incurred by other provinces. Makhura warned that the department would run out of finances to maintain services of adequate and acceptable standard throughout the year if the problem was allowed to continue. Limpopo and Mpumalanga owe Gauteng a R12-million and R7-million respectively. And North West owes R37-million for its patients’ treatment in Gauteng hospitals.
Makhura also pointed fingers at universities in Gauteng for unpaid debts amounting to R900-million, incurred as a result of training undertaken by students at government health institutions. Regarding foreign patients, Makhura said the province will be going to every embassy in Tshwane there are so many people from these countries that have accessed healthcare services. He said poor countries unable to settle their citizens’ debts could go to UN funds. Makhura explained that health institutions were in a predicament because they couldn’t turn patients away on the basis that they came from outside the country or other parts of the country. He said the constitution of South Africa prohibited the department from turning patients away. Underfunding of healthcare in provinces that experienced high volumes of patients was also a cause for concern. He said this is an issue that has been raised before. Gauteng suffers double jeopardy. At one level, there is underfunding and then there are foreign nationals, some of whom are not paying.