The University of Pretoria’s (UP) Faculty of Health Sciences is part of a Universities Consortium that has won a bid to support the National Department of Health’s (NDoH) National Health Insurance (NHI) reforms. Along with other Consortium members, UP will provide technical support through healthcare service modelling, through contracting of healthcare professionals.
The NHI is a financing system that aims to ensure that all South Africans are provided with essential healthcare, regardless of their employment status and ability to make a direct contribution to the NHI Fund. The establishment of the NHI is in line with South Africans’ constitutional right to healthcare.
The Universities Consortium project, which was launched recently at the University of the Free State, one of the Consortium partners, is comprised of the University of the Witwatersrand (which led the bid response), UP, Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University, the University of Fort Hare and Nelson Mandela University. The Wits Health Consortium, contracted by the University of the Witwatersrand, will support the Universities Consortium through the provision of project management and financial and administrative support for the implementation of the project.
According to the Universities Consortium, it will “support national health delivery by assisting in the employment of graduates to provide services while they complete their statutory internships/community service period. The Consortium will also provide administrative and technical support to the NDoH in respect of the provision of healthcare, and will act as strategic partners in the purchasing of services.”
The Consortium said the project enables opportunities to broaden access to health facilities, services and information. Over the next three years, the project aims to change lives positively through meaningful engagement and a commitment to achieving universal health coverage.
“The launch of the Universities Consortium project is an initiation of a movement that is long overdue, as it enables universities to collaborate, rather than compete, on critical national health challenges. This project is unprecedented, and will provide unparalleled benefits to the country and to the institutions involved,” said Prof Pagollang Motloba, of Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University and Chairperson of the Universities Consortium Steering Committee.
According to Prof Jannie Hugo, Head of the Department of Family Medicine at UP’s Faculty of Health Sciences, “UP developed the Integrated Health Systems Planning Tool (iHSP), which will be used in all provinces. It will assist other universities and provinces to choose pilot sites and work out details through mapping and modelling of the healthcare facilities.”
UP will initially map and profile communities in Tshwane, based on their income, burden of disease and access to healthcare facilities, to work out how many healthcare workers should be allocated to the community-based services that serve them. “UP is taking lead in this field. It developed the tool, and will work with other universities, provinces and implementation sites. This is a niche for UP, and we will be doing this countywide.”
UP’s departments of Family Medicine, Psychology, Public Health Medicine, Occupational Therapy, Nursing, Human Nutrition, Physiotherapy and Social Work will be involved initially. “Many other departments will get involved over time.” Prof Hugo explained that UP will work with the other universities and provinces in choosing, designing and implementing healthcare reforms under the project. It will assist in developing training and peer-review processes, and provide learning materials for the intervention.
Furthermore, UP will be involved in the selection, development and implementation of information and communications technology systems to support and monitor the interventions. “Healthcare depends on high-touch care, supported by high-tech information systems,” Prof Hugo said. UP will provide training to healthcare workers, and assist other universities in modelling servvices for the NHI. “In time, this will lead to changes in the content of the training of all the disciplines involved, and ultimately lead to curriculum change to prepare students for working within the NHI.”
Overall, UP will provide conceptual leadership, identify the key issues, and work out solutions. It will support the other partners in implementing appropriate programmes. “It is important to note that UP is doing this in collaboration with the other universities, provinces and stakeholders. UP works collaboratively.”
Funding from the Department of Health will be used for the core UP team, employment of health workers, and the implementation of pilot projects delivering and coordinating services to identified communities.
According to Dan Mosia of the Project Management Unit of the Wits Health Consortium, “We are excited about this venture, which will contribute to a cultural change in universities, and to societal reform.”
Meanwhile the Universities Consortium said the potential for collaborative support, learning and cross-pollination within the consortium is considerable. “Economies of scale concerning ideas, concepts, planning and implementation are all possible… The model [of the project] balances the need for standardisation where necessary (e.g. information management) to customisation according to the local context. Overall, the model will improve health services, including the use of training and an academic platform to do so, as well as generate the research and data to inform the rollout of the NHI.”