PROPONENTS on both sides of the National Health Insurance (NHI) debate have emphasised improving service at public health facilities. They are right. Many clinics and hospitals are understaffed and poorly managed, with shortages of essential medicines and equipment. Patients have to wait in long queues. They are lucky if they see a pharmacist for assistance on the correct use of medicines. The reasons for this are many and complex. The fragmented apartheid health system, the poor leadership until 2008 on the HIV/AIDS crisis, under-resourcing and poor management skills have affected the public health system. The skewed distribution of resources between private and public healthcare is a crucial factor.