Last week on 13 November, Nalithemba Hospitals formally announced that they will be pulling private services out of both Settlers Hospital in Makhanda, and Port Alfred Hospital. Private services to both hospitals are provided by Nalithemba, which is 50 percent owned by Netcare. The news has raised concern among local practitioners as well as the Grahamstown Business Forum.
Nalithemba was in a public private partnership (PPP) with the Eastern Cape Department of Health (ECDOH), and says they will be withdrawing services as a result of low demand.
In a press release, Netcare General Manager for Finance Chris Smith said, “At the outset of the PPP it was anticipated that the demand for private healthcare services within these facilities would grow. However this demand has not materialised and we are faced with the reality that there are insufficient private patients to support the viability of Nalithemba Hospitals’ operations within the facilities.”
Smith is consultant to the Nalithemba board.
“Nalithemba Hospitals has, for the past decade, supported the operations at a significant cost and in the absence of any evidence that there will be a change in the current circumstances, it was decided to return the management of facilities to the ECDoH so that they can be optimised in the best interests of delivering care to the community.”
Local practitioners questioned Nalithemba’s assertion that the demand for private services was low.
In a public letter issued on 15 November, practitioners stated: “We are surprised at this statement, as the private ward at Settlers is currently full. The operating theatres are in use daily and the private consulting rooms well utilised by several visiting and permanent specialists in General Surgery, Orthopaedics, ENT, Psychiatry, Anaesthiology, Urology and Paediatrics.”
Despite Netcare’s withdrawal, practitioners have vowed to continue caring for the community as well as engage with the ECDOH.
“We are writing to the ECDOH to offer our support to assist them in the move to NHI implementation and to offer our services in a contracted and strategic manner, to support the ECDOH junior doctors in casualty, theatre, OPD and on the wards.”, stated the letter.
Since the inception of the PPP, Netcare has supported the renovation and re-opening of Port Alfred Hospital in 2009, as well as renovations to Settlers. Netcare currently operates in four hospitals in the Eastern Cape including Greenacres in Port Elizabeth, Cuyler in Uitenhage, Settlers and Port Alfred. Currently, Settlers and Port Alfred have 32 and 31 registered private beds, respectively.
Allegations of non-payment to Nalithemba by the ECDOH have been strongly refuted. “There is absolutely no truth to the allegations that we have not paid our obligations to the PPP,” said provincial spokesperson Sizwe Kupelo.
“Nalithemba Hospitals is currently consulting with ECDoH to ensure a seamless handover process as well as with unions and staff members, with a view to exploring alternative employment opportunities for its 72 staff members currently working at the two hospitals,” states Netcare’s release.
The Grahamstown Business Forum has expressed concern with the withdraw, and plans to engage with various partners and government actors in coming weeks.
Grocott’s Mail sent questions to the ECDOH earlier this week regarding the future of the private wards, the possible absorption of staff by the department, as well as the financial aspects of the PPP. Our reporter also queried the link between the end of the PPP and the department’s preparations for the NHI. However, no response was received by the time of publication.