R5 healthcare doesn’t make sense

By Meggan McCarthy

In October 2007, private medical services provider, Netcare, approached Rhodes University with an offer to provide students with emergency medical cover at a cost of R5 a month per student. This offer was turned down by the University. This scheme had been successfully implemented at the University of Witwatersrand, motivating Netcare to come to Rhodes with a proposal.

The incentive would include 24-hour medical emergency care, with an ambulance on call for 24 hours. Adrian Erasmus, intermediate life support paramedic at Netcare, told Activate last week that this scheme would be beneficial for students as they would not have to phone the provincial ambulance services. “They’re short-staffed and you can wait for up to two hours for a provincial ambulance. This [waiting period] increases over weekends,” said Erasmus.

He said that there would be inter-facility transfers to a private Port Elizabeth hospital, which is a level one facility and has more specialised facilities than Settlers Hospital. Erasmus said that if a patient had any complicated fractures, they would be transferred to a Port Elizabeth hospital where the facilities and surgeons are better equipped. The offer also included a 24 hour medical advice line and four standbys a year. These standbys would include four major events of Rhodes’ choice, for example Tri-Varsity and O-Week. This would entail Netcare staff being on standby in case of an emergency. These benefits would be included in the R5 per month.

Erasmus emailed the proposal to the SRC, which held a meeting to discuss it. According to Erasmus, the SRC was impressed and interested in the offer. Erasmus was then told by the SRC that the offer had been turned down. He said that he was never given a reason for this decision. Ricardo Pillay, SRC Media Representative at that time, said, “The first proposal sounded like a good plan, but when it came to the financial implications, then that became a problem.” Pillay said the main problem was that Netcare wanted all 6500 Rhodes students to be on the scheme. “If it was optional then it would have been fine, but as it was a mandatory student expense it would have been unfair to those students who wouldn’t use the service.” In addition, Netcare approached Rhodes after the 2007 budget was finalised. After this finalisation, no extra financial costs can be added to students’ accounts.

After hearing that the offer had been turned down, Erasmus then decided to approach Dean of Students Vivian de Klerk directly with the proposal. De Klerk took the document to the Senior Management Forum.

Kholosa Loni, SRC Student Benefits councillor, said that management discussed the proposal at a meeting on 17 October 2007, and it was decided that such a scheme could not be implemented if it involved a “blanket charge for students”. According to de Klerk, the management decided that the scheme was not as affordable or attractive as it initially seemed.

The official decision, reflected in the minutes of the meeting, was that “Netcare’s request for blanket service to students in return for R5 per month per student retainer doesn’t make sense” and that “R360 000 per annum is far in excess of actual use of their service”.

Mike de Agrella, operational manager of Netcare in Grahamstown, said that Netcare would consider not having all students on the scheme, and that he would approach Rhodes and the SRC later this year with a new proposal. “I’ll be keen to do it [renegotiate], but it must be viable, if only 100 students want it [to be on the scheme] then no, but if at least half the students want it then it would be viable.”

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