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Durban - News of the closure of the historic 103-year-old McCord Hospital in Overport has been met with shock and disappointment.

The state-aided hospital is set to close its doors in March, resulting in 424 employees losing their jobs, because the health department has not indicated if it will be providing the facility with its annual subsidy.

According to its website, US missionary surgeon, Dr James McCord, opened the hospital in 1909 to provide medical care to the Zulu people. It also played a role in the training of predominantly black doctors, nurses and midwives during apartheid.

News of the closure comes just days after the KwaZulu-Natal health department said it was considering the closure of Addington hospital for renovations.

McCord acting chief executive Kevin Smith said the hospital could no longer operate because of the loss of the subsidy. It received a R89.3 million subsidy from the department last year.

On Sunday relatives of patients were upset. Pensioner Colin Boyce, who said his wife was receiving outpatient care, was shocked.

Boyce said government funds such as the R200m spent on Zuma’s home in Nkandla could have been used to keep the hospital open.

“The government does not have the interests of the people at heart, he said. Similar remarks were made on social networking sites Twitter and Facebook in reaction to news of the hospital’s closure.

On the hospital’s Facebook page, Annatjie van der Merwe posted: “So sorry to hear that the hospital is closing down, I had the best service from McCords staff when I had my baby there in July, the medical staff and the after-treatment were great and they always have a smile on their faces, praying for all of you, and that somebody will do something about it, this is really sad!”

The hospital was informed in October that there would be a reduction in government funding, but was not told when the complete cut in funding would take place.

It had tried to move towards a private model, but this required more funds and a private licence.

Then hospital chief executive Helga Holst told The Mercury that a proposal for the health department to take over the facility had been rejected.

McCord’s Sinikithemba clinic, which was well known for the care provided to HIV positive patients, also closed last year because of a lack of funding and the patients were moved to alternative public sector facilities.

Smith said the hospital’s funding would end in March.

“McCord has not received notification of an intention (from the department) to renew this funding.

“As a result of the loss of this funding, McCord loses its licence to operate as a state-aided hospital and cannot afford to continue operating.”

The South African Medical Association’s coastal branch president Jacob Mphatswe said with the high unemployment rate, the government should look to prevent job losses.

“It is not just about the doctors or nurses, what about the ordinary staff?

“We cannot have a situation where Addington is collapsing and McCord is closing at the same time. Who is going to absorb the crisis? McCord needs to stay open while Addington’s problems are attended to,” Mphatswe said.

Provincial health department spokesman Sam Mkhwanazi did not respond to questions, but said financial assistance had been provided based on a business model.

He said that the model had included an agreement with the hospital that McCord would treat HIV patients on behalf of the department while the department provided laboratory services and medication and the hospital also provided a service of training medical interns.

Mkhwanazi said that the hospital had stopped providing these services last year “due to reduction of funding from other sources”.

The Mercury