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Office of Health Standards waits for teeth

Horror stories about South Africa's public health facilities have become common, but a new entity, the Office of Health Standards Compliance, has been set up to monitor standards and it has the legal muscle to force failing institutions to improve, reports Health-e.

The OHSC was officially established in 2013 as one of government's weapons against dysfunctional health facilities. It is an independent public entity that is legally empowered to monitor and enforce norms and standards in all health facilities, including private hospitals. In order to operate, all health facilities will have to get a certificate from the OHSC showing that they comply with the norms and standards, and the OHSC has to inspect all facilities at least once every four years. And a yet-to-be-appointed national Ombudsman will hear complaints from the public and is obliged to report back to complainants on action taken to rectify the problems.

Sasha Stevenson, an attorney with Section27 involved in the Eastern Cape coalition, said the OHSC "has a potentially vital role to play in improving the quality of health care services" by "monitoring norms and standards" and "responding to complaints and concerns about health care facilities". "Its investigation and clear and detailed report on Holy Cross Hospital demonstrate the Office's dedication to fulfilling its mandate and are to be welcomed in particular given the crisis that the hospital and its patients and staff have been facing for some time," said Stevenson.

But the OHSC will only get its teeth once national norms and standards for facilities have been adopted. A draft of these was published in February and people have until 18 May to submit comments. The draft regulations cover areas including patients’ rights, leadership and facility upkeep. They make it a duty of facilities to treat patients and their families in a caring and empathetic manner.

Improving standards is a huge and daunting task. There are over 4000 public health facilities in the country. In 2011, a national Health Facilities Audit was conducted and uncovered serious weaknesses. Facilities were assessed on six criteria – cleanliness, infection control, staff attitudes, safety and security, patient waiting times and availability of medicine. The majority of clinics scored below 50%, while few hospitals scored above 60 percent.

[link url="http://www.health-e.org.za/2015/04/29/antidote-to-poor-health-services/"]Full Health-e report[/link]

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