The provincial Department of Health moved last night to allay fears that the McCord Hospital in Durban was about to close, announcing that the province would support the hospital and take it over – possibly by next month.
Frustrated staff picketing outside the hospital yesterday accused management of “stalling talks” and holding the department to “ransom” so they could “turn it into a private hospital”.
At least 34 staff members have been retrenched this year, according to a member of the National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu), who did want to be named.
Dudu Ngidi, a nursing sister who was also born at the hospital, said the possibility of closure was “a nightmare”.
“I’ve been working in this hospital since 1988. I’m already 57 – who would want to employ someone that old? They cannot close the hospital. They don’t even know the strength that was put into creating this hospital,” she said.
But health department spokesman Sam Mkhwanazi said last night: “The MEC for Health, Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo, who incidentally came across workers who were picketing about the issue of the closure of the hospital, recommitted the willingness of the provincial government to take over McCord Hospital.
“Members of the media will be informed accordingly if there are new developments.
“Since the Department of Health announced that the cabinet of the government of the province of KwaZulu-Natal would support McCord Hospital and take it over, negotiations were initiated,” said Mkhwanazi.
“The MECs for health and the provincial treasury were updated on the progress of the negotiations.
“Negotiations have so progressed that there is now an agreement waiting to be signed to effect the takeover of McCord Hospital by the provincial government by September.”
It had emerged earlier that the hospital had apparently told staff that discussions about a possible takeover had broken down and that McCord “will” close at the end of this month should an agreement not be reached.
A communication released to staff members and seen by The Mercury reads: “McCord has given notice to the Department of Health… of termination of the Service Level Agreement with effect from August 31, 2013.”
McCord Hospital got into financial trouble after losing its R89.3 million subsidy, paid to it by the Department of Health until last year.
Last year, the Sinikithemba Care Centre, which provided medical and support facilities for HIV-positive people, was forced to close, with management citing a lack of funding.
The department subsequently intervened, announcing plans to take over the centre’s operations and turn it into a state-run hospital.
Nehawu regional organiser Mdu Chili said it was “immature” to instil fear among workers while discussions were continuing.
He urged the hospital to accept and sign the proposed agreement and to stop “threatening staff”. - The Mercury