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E170M DEBT TO SA HOSPITALS, HUNDREDS OF PATIENTS AT RISK

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MBABANE – The lives of hundreds of Swazis are hanging by the thread as the broke Swazi Government continuously fails to honour its debts.

This unacceptable state of affairs has led to medical service providers in South Africa refusing to accept patients under the Phalala Fund because to date, government owes them about E170 million. It is not only the ordinary Swazis who are affected by this state of affairs, but government employees under the Civil Servants Medical Referral Scheme. The situation has been like this for the past three months, said one of the officers in the Phalala Fund office. To date this financial year (2017/18), 455 Phalala Fund patients and 130 civil servants had been referred.  Several patients, particularly those suffering from several types of cancers, have been kept waiting while government tries to pay off some of its debts.  It is surprising that government was brave enough to award a secret pay rise to senior officers while invoices for the most crucial sector, which is health, remain unpaid. One of the patients who was diagnosed with cervical cancer about four months ago, said she was wondering what would become of her because she was promised that she would be treated, but to date nothing has happened.

“My condition is getting worse and I am in unbearable pain,” she said. She said she had made frequent visits to the Phalala office only to be told that no trips to South Africa were currently being undertaken. During the first quarter of the 2017/18 financial year (April – June), the ministry had outstanding invoices of about E85 million.  A majority of these fell under the Phalala Fund. In the current financial year, according to the ministry’s first quarter performance report, patients had undertaken 585 visits and these included first time visits and subsequent necessary review visits. This financial year, already 16 patients have died. Nine of these were females and the rest were males. A majority of the patients who died were from cases of oncology, which is basically tumours and cancers. The treatment costs include all costs associated with the medical treatment such as procedures, imaging, pathology, hospitalisation and rehabilitation.

The cost also includes the upkeep of the patient, such as accommodation and transport in South Africa. The ministry also cited that one of the challenges faced under the fund were the frequent late payments and failure to pay, which resulted in treatment disruptions as service providers refused to continue treating patients due to lack of payment.  “This makes it difficult for Swaziland to negotiate favourable rates with providers,” it was reported.
The ministry further reported that another challenge they faced was that the current payment process within the Treasury Department was not transparent, and it made it difficult to trace the status of payments and where the bottlenecks occur outside of the Ministry of Health. The ministry also said there was poor reporting from the specialists after attending to the patients in South Africa. “This is a huge challenge because the patients cannot be seen by the local or referring specialists without documented information on what has been done to the patient,” said the ministry.

 

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