Durban - The KwaZulu-Natal health department officially took over Durban's 104-year-old McCord Hospital on Saturday.

The take over, which was marked with an official ceremony at the hospital, was preceded by an interim management agreement that had been in place since the end of October.

KwaZulu-Natal finance MEC Ina Cronje said negotiations to take over the hospital had been fraught with difficulties.

She said the department would keep up the standards that had been present at the hospital before the take over.

"We will maintain the ethos of the old McCords. That ethos is caring for patients."

She said that the overall cost to taxpayers would be minimal.

In terms of the deal the government would settle all outstanding debts, take over the running of the hospital and provide a guarantee for all future liabilities that arise from medical negligence claims.

She stressed that the R75 million had not been paid to board members, but that was what government would guarantee in the event of a claim.

"Should a claim arise at any future date arising from some incident whilst the McCord board was in charge, government guarantees that we will honour that claim, of course provided that it's a valid claim," she said.

Cronje expected that the total amount to be paid out for McCords debts would not amount to more than R15 million.

She praised former KwaZulu-Natal premier Zweli Mkhize for insisting that government take over the hospital.

The province's health MEC Sibongiseni Dhlomo said: "We are happy to have kept to our undertakings that not a single worker would be retrenched during and after these difficult and involved talks (to take over the hospital)."

None of the hospital's board members were present at the ceremony to sign the document marking the hand-over, but Dhlomo said they would sign in the next few days.

Comment could not immediately be obtained from the former hospital board.

Zola Sapheta, the KwaZulu-Natal provincial secretary of the National Education Health and Allied Workers Union welcomed the government's take over and urged the government to look at other troubled private hospitals.

The hospital had been slated for closure early in 2013 after the department opted not to renew its annual subsidy.

At the end of January 2013, Dhlomo announced the department had made an offer to take over the hospital.

However, later in the year, the board said the department's offer not only failed to reach the discounted value of the hospital's assets, it failed to adequately relieve the hospital board of its obligations, including existing and future claims that might be made against the board.

Although it was a private hospital, it was operated on a non-profit basis.