Govt close to taking over McCord Hospital

2013-09-05 00:00

THE controversy over the future of Durban’s landmark McCord Hospital looks set to end this month, with the hospital board finally signing an interim management agreement this week.

This paves the way for a possible takeover by the Department of Health.

Speaking to The Witness, board chairperson Professor Paulus Zulu denied media reports this week claiming that the Department of Health had provided a bail-out for the hospital to remain open for the next month.

“At no point did I ever state the department had injected R10 million,” Zulu said, adding that the interim agreement was signed and sent to the department for their signature on Monday.

“The agreement now paves the way for us to come to an agreement on areas of contention and we can begin the process of restarting discussions with the department on the proposals for a takeover,” explained Zulu.

Responding to Zulu’s comments, KZN Health spokesperson Sam Mkhwanazi confirmed that the department had not injected any money as a reprieve package to the hospital for the coming month. “What I can say, however, is that the department is continuing talks with all parties to reach an amicable solution for McCords, and particularly to try and avert job losses.”

Discussions about the takeover reached a stalemate last month after the hospital ended its service level agreement with the department, saying it could not reach consensus over the figure being offered by the department to protect board members against claims of medical negligence. The board wanted R100 million more than the department’s offer.

The board then put forward another option, which called on the department to allow three of the hospital’s buildings to be placed into a trust fund for 20 years as part of a surety for the board against future litigation.

The buildings in question are the doctors’ quarters, the nurses’ residence and the former HIV care centre. However, the department apparently rejected this, saying any takeover by them would need to include all properties belonging to the hospital so that they could be used more effectively to provide public health services.

The deadlock has led to rising concerns among hospital staff, who fear they may soon lose their jobs. This has prompted the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) to step in, threatening to interdict the hospital to prevent a closure. The union also called on the department to take over hospital staff, should the board decide to close down the hospital if talks fail.

KZN Health MEC Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo gave an assurance that staff would be deployed to other state health facilities should attempts to rescue the hospital fail.

McCord Hospital is seen as an iconic health institution in KZN, having started out as a Christian missionary hospital more than a century ago. It defied the apartheid Group Areas Act by providing health care to people across the colour divide.

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