The inescapable question of fairness in Pay-for-performance bonus distribution: A qualitative study of health workers' experiences in Tanzania
Peer reviewed, Journal article
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Background: During the last decade there has been a growing concern about the lack of results in the health sectors of many low income countries. Progress has been particularly slow in maternal- and child health. Prompted by the need to accelerate progress towards these health outcomes, pay-for- performance (P4P) schemes have been initiated in a number of countries. This paper explores the perceptions and experiences of health workers with P4P bonus distribution in the health system context of rural Tanzania. Methods: This qualitative study was based on the P4P pilot in Pwani Region of Tanzania. The study took place in 11 health care facilities in Rufiji District. The study informants and participants were different cadres of health workers assigned to different outpatient and inpatient departments at the health facilities, and local administrators of the P4P bonus distribution. Thirty two in-depth interviews (IDIs) with administrators and health care workers, and six focus group discussions (FGDs with Reproductive and Child Health (RCH) staff, non-RCH staff and non-medical staff were conducted. Collected data was analyzed through qualitative content analysis. Results: The study found that the bonus distribution modality employed in the P4P programme was experienced as fundamentally unjust. The bonuses were calculated according to the centrality of the health worker position in meeting targeted indicators, drawn from the reproductive and child health (RCH) section. Both RCH staff and non-RCH perceived the P4P bonus as unfair. Non-RCH objected to getting less bonus than RCH staff, and RCH staff running the targeted RCH services, objected to not getting more P4P bonus. Non-RCH staff and health administrators suggested a flat-rate across board as the fairest way of distributing P4P bonuses. The perceived unfairness affected work motivation, undermined teamwork across departments and created tensions in the social relations at health facilities. Conclusion: Our results suggest that the experience of unfairness in the way bonuses are distributed and administered at the health facility level undermines the legitimacy of the P4P scheme. More importantly, long term tensions and conflicts at the workplace may impact negatively on the quality of care which P4P was intended to improve. We argue that fairness is a critical factor to the success of a P4P scheme and that particular attention should be paid to aspects of workplace justice in the design of P4P bonus structures.