GRAVE CONCERN: Being asked about charges added to the trauma of an emergency visit to Rondebosch Medical Centre

I was surprised by a Facebook post I wrote last week that has gone viral and continues to get attention almost daily.

I had no intention for it to create such a stir, but it did show me that my experience wasn’t unique.

And that worries me a great deal, because it means we have a broken healthcare system. Last Sunday, my son was running a high fever for the third night in a row.

I wasn’t overly concerned, but to put his mother and grandmother’s minds at ease, I decided to take him to a doctor.

After finding most places closed, we ended up face-to-face with a half-interested receptionist at Rondebosch Medical Centre’s (RMC) emergency room.

He showed absolutely no interest in the emergency, but instead focused on our ability to afford the treatment.

He greeted us with the statement: “Will that be medical aid or cash, sir?” after which he proceeded to explain that the consultation would cost anywhere between R1 000 and R1 500. I was so stunned that I could hardly speak.

And because I wanted to make a point, I managed to squeeze out the fact that my son was running a dangerously high fever.

I was hoping that he would get the point that he hadn’t bothered to ask about the emergency. I don’t think he got it!

So in order to vent my frustration, I turned to Facebook, as people do these days.

The last time I checked, that post has been liked and shared more than 500 times.

But it’s the comments that caught my attention and again reminded me of what a mess our healthcare system is in.

You see, I am in the fortunate position that I could afford my medical emergency and my son ended up being just fine.

But I was reminded of all those people who are unable to afford quality emergency treatment. And from the comments on my Facebook wall, many people have had similar experiences over the years.

Let me start by saying that someone remembered having a wonderful experience at the RMC, when her child needed treatment for a severe allergic reaction.

No questions about payment or affordability, just immediate medical attention, as it should be.

As for the rest, one guy mentioned the fact that he was asked about payment while being treated in the ambulance.

Another remembered how her daughter’s injuries were first assessed in an emergency room, after she was mauled by two pit bulls.

The bleeding girl was never seen by a doctor.

Councillor Angus McKenzie remembered how he had to come up with a R15 000 deposit to continue treatment for his son, who was already in hospital at the time.

And all because the new medical aid was only kicking in the following day - the first day of the new cycle.

It is crazy and unaccep- table that people in need are treated this way by places whose sole purpose it is to help those in need.

It is a sick form of emotional blackmail when a distraught parent is told to cough up cash before doctors will bother to care.

When a parent is looking at their sick or bleeding child, the anxiety doesn’t just make them unreasonable, but also inclined to do just about anything.

These medical professionals’ actions are the result of a healthcare system that has put wealth above our health.

I know private hospitals have to make money to satisfy their shareholders.

It is not something I like, or even agree with, but I do understand it.

The problem is that, as the standard of living increases, so shareholders are going to want more dividends to maintain their lifestyles.

This puts pressure on workers like the receptionist at the RMC to ignore a possible emergency and ask about affordability first.

The RMC’s Lynn Moonsamy said: “It was established that our staff did not strictly follow our standard operating procedure, which is to get the nurse or doctor on duty to assess the patient.”

A probe was launched and they will take the necessary corrective action.

Government is busy working on the National Health Insurance plan, which is meant to give us all access to quality medical care.

But it doesn’t mean private hospitals and medical aids will disappear. They will find new ways to survive, which means there will always be a healthcare elite.

One way of dealing with this is to semi-privatise hospitals and pay close attention to their management.

Upgrade them so they’re on par with private hospitals, pay state medics better than private peers and make the experience at Groote Schuur equal to - if not better than - private facilities.

Then let the supply-and- demand market take care of the rest!

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