African Journal of Psychiatry

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Acute mental health care according to recent mental health legislation Part II. Activity-based costing

ABR Janse van Rensburg, W Jassat


Objective: This is the second of three reports on the follow-up review of mental health care at Helen Joseph Hospital (HJH). Objectives for the review were to provide realistic estimates of cost for unit activities and to establish a quality assurance cycle that may facilitate cost centre management. Method: The study described and used activity-based costing (ABC) as an approach to analyse the recurrent cost of acute in-patient care for the financial year 2007-08. Fixed (e.g. goods and services, staff salaries) and variable recurrent costs (including laboratory’, ‘pharmacy’) were calculated. Cost per day, per user and per diagnostic group was calculated. Results: While the unit accounted for 4.6% of the hospital’s total clinical activity (patient days), the cost of R8.12 million incurred represented only 2.4% of the total hospital expenditure (R341.36 million). Fixed costs constituted 90% of the total cost. For the total number of 520 users that stayed on average 15.4 days, the average cost was R1,023.00 per day and R15748.00 per user. Users with schizophrenia accounted for the most (35%) of the cost, while the care of users with dementia was the most expensive (R23,360.68 per user). Costing of the application of World Health Organization norms for acute care staffing for the unit, projected an average increase of 103% in recurrent costs (R5.1 million), with the bulk (a 267% increase) for nursing. Conclusion: In the absence of other guidelines, aligning clinical activity with the proportion of the hospital’s total budget may be an approach to determine what amount should be afforded to acute mental health in-patient care activities in a general regional hospital such as HJH. Despite the potential benefits of ABC, its continued application will require time, infrastructure and staff investment to establish the capacity to maintain routine annual cost analyses for different cost centres.

Key words: Cost analysis; Activity-based costing; Acute mental health care; Recurrent cost; Fixed and variable cost; Cost centre management; Hospital expenditure
AJOL African Journals Online