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Government subsidy cuts and an end to international aid have left the 103-year-old McCord Hospital in Overport with “little option” but to become a fully private – but non-profit – hospital.
Eighty staff members have taken up offers of early retirement or severance packages, and the renowned Sinikithemba HIV clinic’s 4 000 adult patients and 600 paediatric patients have been given the choice of going to local clinics or paying more to continue at the McCord Medical Centre.
McCord’s cash fee for a consultation has increased from R180 to R300. Patients will also have to pay external providers for laboratory tests and antiretrovirals.
The Sinikithemba clinic ran one of the country’s largest HIV care and treatment programmes. It initiated antiretroviral therapy for more than 8 000 people, including more than 1 000 children.
Hospital chief executive Helga Holst said the transition was “painful” for Sinikithemba staff, who had formed strong bonds with the patients.
“But there is no doubt the enormity of the HIV pandemic makes treatment at a public, primary health care level the most logical and sustainable option for South Africa.”
General hospital patients would not be affected by McCord’s becoming a wholly private hospital.
For years the hospital has received a subsidy from the Department of Health, and its non-profit status had allowed it access to grants from donors.
Holst said this had enabled it to offer heavily subsidised services.
The state subsidy has been cut by 22 percent, and tomorrow its 10-year US President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (Pepfar) programme ends. The programme funded Sinikithemba and the male circumcision clinic.
“Last year, 43 percent of the hospital’s revenue was from the subsidy and 22 percent from Pepfar,” Holst said.
“As of April 1, McCord Hospital has had a 22 percent reduction in its annual subsidy from the department and has been told that it will be weaned off its subsidy entirely.”
Holst said this “significant reduction in revenue” had left the hospital with no choice but to seek a new and sustainable business model.
She said that the Department of Health had informed the hospital’s management that it was not willing to take over McCord.
Although changes to the running of the hospital would be minimal, it was vital that the number of staff employed was proportional to the service offered to the public.
“The hospital’s staff numbers will therefore follow closely those found in the private health care sector, where the institution is run as efficiently as possible,” she said.
McCord employs 500 people. Holst said although the issue of retrenchments was being finalised, it was possible that no more than 30 staff members would be retrenched. The hospital would help these people find new jobs.
McCord wanted to serve the middle income market or those who were employed, but had no hospital cover or not enough.
“The hospital will offer cash packages in addition to serving clients who have medical aid.”
In seeking partnerships for its new business model, it was consulting people with expertise in private health care and providers of affordable and quality services.
Holst could not say why the the subsidy was being cut.
The department had not responded to questions by the time of going to print