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If quality comes at a price, why bother?

How much does quality matter? And how do you prioritise it when it actually costs more? This week HBI was at the IFC conference in Cape Town where there were strong views on the subject.

“No-one is asking whether there is a business case for quality airplanes, (yet) we accept that some people will receive poor quality of care!” said Nicole Spieker, CEO, PharmAccess.

In the short term, investing in improving quality tends to increase costs and therefore lower profitability, but there is general consensus that in the medium to long-term it is generally (profit) positive.

And quality does not always cost. Sometimes it’s simply a matter of common sense and process. Spieker cited the example of an NHS which simply advised that people use soap and open their windows: “The behaviour of staff matters more than the quality of the soap sometimes. But investors will need to have faith that in the medium to long-term they will reap the benefits.”

For-profits (and their investors) get more than their fair share of criticism when it comes to allegations of putting profits ahead of quality, and perhaps the way we talk about profit and quality in the same breath needs to be challenged. In some jurisdictions, quality and profit-making are felt to be at alternate ends of the spectrum – even when there is palpable evidence that the reverse is often the case. It matters not, perhaps, whether the Alzira model in Spain, or for-profits in general in Poland produce better quality at a lower cost if it is politically expedient to decry them.

“For-profit” has become almost a pejorative term. Dr Khama Rogo, lead health sector specialist with the World Bank and head of the World Bank Group’s Health in Africa Initiative, pleaded in his keynote speech at the conference: “Can we all stop using the word ‘for-profit’? It’s venomous in medical discussion.”

Spieker countered: “There’s nothing wrong with the word ‘for-profit’. Profit drives invention and resilience.”

It may indeed drive invention, but in times of crisis, health care operators may be more concerned about survival. At these times, is the price of quality worth paying?

Spieker said: “We have seen a lot of healthcare facilities struggling. We may have been one of the only organisations who did restructuring of loans to get these healthcare facilities through the pandemic. But we had a hard time finding the investment capital to finance it. We should be investing in this a lot more, but we need financing mechanisms to overcome some of these barriers.”

Quality must be demanded, and the benefits understood – not least by investors. Like going to the dentist, there’s an initial pain, but after a period of healing and recovery, health improves. As for whether that quality is improved by the carer wearing an NHS or a for-profit uniform, we’d suggest the statistics might paint a less partial view than those with something to gain politically.

We would welcome your thoughts on this story. Email your views to Michaila Byrne or call 0207 183 3779.