McCord: a test for state health

kasturi nurse Kasturi Chetty (her maiden surname) wearing her first epaulettes (stripes) in 1966.

There is general relief that McCord Hospital is to remain open, and continue its widely respected 103-year history of serving Durban.

This is an institution with a rich, exceptional past, a pioneer which brushed aside the discriminatory policies of 20th century South Africa and trained thousands of nurses, midwives and doctors, most of them black, when others did not.

Between 1910 and 1914, it trained four African nurses – but could not register them until the Natal Medical Council recognised them 10 years later. Since 1924, about 190 nurses have graduated there annually

In the 1940s, Chief Albert Luthuli joined the McCord board. Until recently, eight to 12 interns became doctors there each year – Premier Zweli Mkhize was an intern in 1983. Many, like Kasturi Reddy on the opposite page, speak fondly and gratefully of McCord.

Closure of this special hospital would have been shameful, an indictment of all who were party to it. A buyout by the province has resolved this, and the rescue is welcome.

Much is still to be negotiated in the buyout. Health MEC Sibongiseni Dhlomo and the head of Health in KwaZulu-Natal, Sibongile Zungu, have set themselves a mighty challenge in taking over the hospital.

The buyout drew immediate concerns about standards of care at McCord. Given the state of public health care, and instances like Addington, the source of these misgivings is no mystery. Will it also slide the same way?

It will be Dhlomo and Zungu’s work to ensure it does not, a measure of their competence. McCord must maintain care levels as it moves from a private-public model and sets out to widen the services it offers.

One thing they do not want is a revival of the present debate over whether a private-public hospital should not, somehow, have been made to work.



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