The SA National Defence Force’s fourth component – the SA Military Health Service (SAMHS) – is this week marking its achievements in the wider medical field, as well as those directly associated with the military.
Starting today (Tuesday) the men and women who wear the maroon beret of what used to be the SA Medical Corps (SAMC) before it became the SA Medical Service (SAMS) and again underwent a name change with the formation of the SANDF, are gathering at Tempe Military Base outside Bloemfontein.
In addition to hearing papers and presentations on medical developments and technologies as part of force preparation for military medics, said to be multidisciplinary healthcare professionals, those present will be given insights into more purely military medical matters as well. These include health intelligence, chemical weapons analysis and body armour design.
Surgeon General, Lieutenant General Aubrey Sedibe, calls the men and women he commands “health warriors” and the three day symposium will concentrate on how they serve “the brave” - those in the fighting service arms of the air force, army and navy.
The three day event, under the title of SAMHS annual academic days, is an opportunity to show its academic achievements as part of overall force preparation. Additionally the academic days are seen as a learning and training opportunity.
Academics from various medical and other professions will speak on aspects of national health, specifically as they relate to military medics. An integral part of the event are discussion sessions, facilitated by the Surgeon General, with the aim of stimulating debate to improve healthcare nationally as well as in the military.
“An event of this magnitude keeps SAMHS abreast of global health standards and allow it to maintain its functionality as set out by the Surgeon General under the banner “Standard of Care: A health service delivery imperative’,” said SAMHS Colonel Priscilla Lengoasa.
The SAMHS is an important component of the SANDF, and receives around 10% of the total defence budget vote. For instance, for the 2016/17 financial year the Department of Defence allocated R4.4 billion towards ‘Military Health Support’ and R4.5 billion for the 2018/18 financial year.
In its 2017 Annual Performance Plan, the Department of Defence said over the medium term it plans to maintain a health support capability of five medical battalion groups, including one specialist group for deployed and contingency forces; and a comprehensive, multi-disciplinary military health service to a projected patient population of 302 000 people per year.
“The department has reprioritised R951.6 million from spending on goods and services to provide for comprehensive health care to members of the SANDF, their dependants and retired military personnel. These funds are expected to cover the increasing costs of essential medicine and medical supplies in the Military Health Support programme over the medium term,” the report said.
It added that it foresees health service delivery to the SANDF may be adversely affected by the high frequency of SANDF deployments in an ever-growing complex and psychologically stressful environment.
“Trends over the last few years have indicated that South African Military Health Support (SAMHS) such as military hospitals, sickbays and military medical clinics that are directly involved in healthcare service delivery, over-expend on the allocated budget due to the increased number of members in spite of efforts to contain cost. The medical environment is inappropriately funded to meet these increased demands and this has been confirmed by the findings of the Defence Force Service Commission and the Ministerial Medical Task Team. Challenges that may impact on health service delivery are the possibility of an increase in outsourcing and potential patient increase on the Regular Force Medical Continuation Fund due to aging military personnel and their dependants.”