Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi has announced several new measures aimed at the improving health services in the country.
Addressing the media on the sidelines of a National Health Council (NHC) meeting on Thursday, the minister announced an 18% aggregate reduction in the cost of anti-TB medication and antibiotics, which translated to a saving of R242 million.
This was part of government's continued efforts to reduce the cost of healthcare, he said.
Motsoaledi announced the appointment of District Clinical Specialist Teams as part of the department's efforts to "re-engineer the primary health care system."
The teams will comprise senior experts including an anaesthetist, family physician, primary health care nurse, obstetrician, advanced midwife, paediatrician and advanced paediatric nurse.
Each district will be allocated a team, which will be responsible for support, supervision and clinical governance within its defined geographic area.
"The teams need to strengthen existing services and ensure equitable access to appropriate care for all mothers, babies and children. This will be achieved by enhancing the clinical competence of health care workers, promoting improved health facilities and facilitating referral pathways to specialist services," he said.
The minister also had good news for nursing students.
Seventy-two nursing colleges will be refurbished, improved, and extra space added where necessary, he said.
The renovations are expected to be completed by the end of the current financial year at the cost of R272 million.
Turning to the country's hospitals, the minister noted that they were not designated according to the uniform norms and standards as is the practice internationally.
"The result is that when one province talks about one facility, it means a different thing to the province next door in what is supposed to be a similar facility. Even the levels, skills and competencies of management differ in what are supposed to be similar levels of facilities, depending on which province you find yourself in," he noted.
In some instances, hospitals were managed by people who were at a clerical level such as level 8, Motsoaledi added.
These anomalies would have to be corrected if the National Health Insurance (NHI) is successfully implemented and if people are to receive quality services.
The first step in addressing these challenges is to ensure that hospitals have the correct designation through regulations, said Motsoaledi.
For the past eight weeks, a team set up by the national Department of Health has been working on the matter and their report was adopted by the NHC on Thursday.
The new designations will be gazetted for public comment next week.
The regulations propose that public hospitals be divided into different categories: district hospitals of various sizes, regional hospitals, tertiary hospitals, central hospitals and specialised hospitals.
The broad nature of the health services to be provided at each level will be specified in the regulations.
The minister explained that a specialised hospital would provide specialist services like psychiatric, tuberculosis, and rehabilitation health services.
"A central hospital will provide highly specialised tertiary level health services to patients from around the country and may also provide quaternary services. These hospitals will be national referral hospitals and attached to medical schools as major training platform for health professionals and hence will not be found in every province," he added.
The regulations will ensure that hospitals are managed by suitably qualified and competent managers at appropriate designations.
The minister said according to the regulations, no hospital will be managed at a level below 12 and no central hospital will be managed at a level below 15 or deputy director-general level.
"We need these regulations in order to ensure that public hospitals are in future constructed in accordance with international norms and standards that are designed to ensure good governance and administration as well as efficiency of the public health system," Motsoaledi said.