The coalition of patient groups welcomed the department’s publication of the charter, and voiced their agreement with its aims. The coalition said the main principle that the charter should reinforce and entrench is patient rights – in particular their rights to quality care, education and representation – which the department is already promoting in the Patient Rights Charter.
The welcomed extension of primary health care facilities has meant better access to clinics, for instance, but consumers do not necessarily get quality, patient-centred care once they get there. “Issues of management, unavailability of medicine, unsympathetic attitudes of clerks towards patients and inefficient record-keeping all need addressing,” said the coalition. “The charter needs to make provision for ways of ensuring that all staff in primary health care facilities – including clerical staff – should be chosen for their caring personalities and specifically trained to portray caring attitudes.”
An important aspect of patient rights (indeed, consumer rights more generally) is the education of patients about their health, their options and their responsibilities. All stakeholders need to engage jointly in prioritizing this issue and making resources available to make it happen. “Patients in the public sector often have minimal access to medication and to education with respect to medication and their rights,” said the submission. “While acknowledging that the law allows for generic substitution, this has had a negative impact on the doctor-patient relationship and is an example of where substantial education needs to take place. Most patients are not aware of what is legal, permissible or advisable when pharmacists want to substitute a product prescribed by a doctor; patients need to have more say in this process, and prescribing doctors should be able to defend and stick to clinic decisions.”