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Healthcare reform plans on course

MOVE EXPECTED TO HELP MINISTRY CUT |ITS BALLOONING ANNUAL EXPENDITURE

THE PUBLIC Health Ministry is pressing ahead with reforms to the country's public healthcare system in a bid to improve the quality of and access to healthcare services.

According to the ministry's deputy permanent secretary Dr Wachira Pengjuntr, the plan will focus on three main areas: Setting up a public-health strategy; reforming the structure of health-related agencies and overhauling the management of regional public health-service providers.

"We need at least five to ten years to achieve this plan," Wachira, who will oversee the reforms, told The Nation in an exclusive interview.

During the past year, the ministry has attempted to move forward with its reform plans, but so far there has been little progress. To date, the ministry has only established a National Clearing House, which would deal with the budget and financial transactions of the three national healthcare insurance funds namely, the National Health Security Fund, the Social Security Fund and the Civil Servant Medical Benefit.

According to Wachira, the Office of the Public Sector Development Commission (OPSDC) has already endorsed the establishment of the National Clearing House and is now considering whether to issue a decree to legally set up the centre.

The ministry also plans to establish a National Information Centre, which would work closely with the National Clearing House, to collect and manage people's health records and medical bills. This centre would allow the three national health insurance funds to access the health records, so as to be able to manage their budgets effectively.

The ministry also plans to reform the structure of health-related agencies, including the Office of the Permanent Secretary, but approval for this has not yet been received from the OPSDC.

However, the OPSDC has already given a green light to setting up regional healthcare-service providers. The healthcare providers at provincial and regional level - each with their own hospital or medical unit - would ensure local communities get better access to quality healthcare. Regional healthcare providers would also be able to work together in negotiating the price of pharmaceutical products and equipment, thus reducing overall healthcare expenditure.

Healthcare reform will also improve 10 key areas of healthcare - heart and artery-related diseases; cancer-related diseases; the aftercare of infants; emergency medical services; psychiatry; primary care; dental care; kidney and eye-related diseases; and non-communicable diseases.

While reform of the country's public health system will improve the quality of healthcare, it will also reduce public healthcare expenditure, which over the last decade had risen from Bt60 million to Bt200 billion a year.

Mortality rates are also expected to decline and waiting lists for treatment would be shorter, according to the ministry.


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