Emergence of three general practitioner contracting-in models in South Africa: A qualitative multi-case study

Linda Mureithi, James Michael Burnett, Adam Bertscher, René English

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Background: The general practitioner contracting initiative (GPCI) is a health systems strengthening initiative piloted in the first phase of national health insurance (NHI) implementation in South Africa as it progresses towards universal health coverage (UHC). GPCI aimed to address the shortage of doctors in the public sector by contracting-in private sector general practitioners (GPs) to render services in public primary health care clinics. This paper explores the early inception and emergence of the GPCI. It describes three models of contracting-in that emerged and interrogates key factors influencing their evolution. Methods: This qualitative multi-case study draws on three cases. Data collection comprised document review, key informant interviews and focus group discussions with national, provincial and district managers as well as GPs (n = 68). Walt and Gilson's health policy analysis triangle and Liu's conceptual framework on contracting-out were used to explore the policy content, process, actors and contractual arrangements involved. Results: Three models of contracting-in emerged, based on the type of purchaser: a centralized-purchaser model, a decentralized-purchaser model and a contracted-purchaser model. These models are funded from a single central source but have varying levels of involvement of national, provincial and district managers. Funds are channelled from purchaser to provider in slightly different ways. Contract formality differed slightly by model and was found to be influenced by context and type of purchaser. Conceptualization of the GPCI was primarily a nationally-driven process in a context of high-level political will to address inequity through NHI implementation. Emergence of the models was influenced by three main factors, flexibility in the piloting process, managerial capacity and financial management capacity. Conclusion: The GPCI models were iterations of the centralized-purchaser model. Emergence of the other models was strongly influenced by purchaser capacity to manage contracts, payments and recruitment processes. Findings from the decentralized-purchaser model show importance of local context, provincial capacity and experience on influencing evolution of the models. Whilst contract characteristics need to be well defined, allowing for adaptability to the local context and capacity is critical. Purchaser capacity, existing systems and institutional knowledge and experience in contracting and financial management should be considered before adopting a decentralized implementation approach.

Original languageEnglish
Article number107
JournalInternational Journal for Equity in Health
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 5 Oct 2018


  • Contracting
  • Contracting-in
  • General practitioner
  • Health policy and systems research
  • Low-and-middle-income countries
  • Non-state provider
  • Primary health care
  • Public private sector
  • South Africa
  • Universal health care

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Policy
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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