Netcare sets the record straight on changes at Alberlito Hospital

Picture: Netcare Alberlito Hospital Facebook

Picture: Netcare Alberlito Hospital Facebook

Published Oct 27, 2022


Durban – Netcare says that while it has plans to shift focus at its Alberlito Hospital next year, day to day children's health services will remain.

Earlier this week, paediatricians and obstetricians based at the medical facility situated on the KwaZulu-Natal north coast, said their leases for next year were not renewed.

The specialists said Netcare planned to convert the second floor, which currently houses 37 beds collectively comprising 15 maternity beds, seven neonatal intensive care beds and 15 paediatric beds, into a mental health “facility”.

Nine specialists who have operated from the hospital said they were informed that their leases would not be renewed in January next year.

They were also told to vacate the consulting rooms by the end of April 2023.

However, Netcare’s Sara Nayager said more than 80% of the care provided to paediatric patients at the hospital will be unaffected by the changes planned to commence in May next year.

She said the hospital’s emergency department will continue to welcome children and families and care for their urgent medical needs, and paediatric day procedures will remain in place.

“The emergency department at the hospital is well positioned to handle emergencies across the board and is, as always, supported by Netcare 911’s road ambulance service based at the hospital as well as its aero-medical services," she added.

Nayager said the resource-intensive overnight paediatric and neonatal intensive care unit, as well as obstetric facilities at this particular hospital have seen dwindling demand over the past 10 years and will be closed or in the case of the paediatric overnight ward, a much smaller unit will be created.

"Therefore, Netcare Alberlito Hospital will still have limited paediatric overnight beds, and in the unusual event that more children require overnight hospital care than we can accommodate at once, there is provision for transfer to the closest facility most appropriate for their specific needs.

"The lower paediatric admissions in our facilities reflect global trends towards treating children on an outpatient basis wherever possible and speaks to ethical paediatric practice as opposed to over servicing. Netcare has therefore been subsidising these unsustainable units for years to keep the hospital afloat and to continue providing healthcare at this facility. It is interesting to note that between 2008 and 2018, even before the Covid-19 pandemic, the number of hospitals in the United States that offered paediatric services reduced by 20%," Nayager said.

She added that after many attempts to make these units more sustainable over the years, including discussions with doctors and other stakeholders, we were forced to consider the impact this scenario is having on the overall sustainability of the hospital, which has been running at a loss over many years due, in part, to these under-performing and resource intensive units.

"The jobs of our 342 Netcare and support staff members are therefore being placed in jeopardy because these services are not sustainable. The affected specialists have either been offered practising privileges at other Netcare facilities, where we are seeing a demand for these services, or alternative options have been discussed. We will also do our utmost to ensure alternative consulting rooms for those specialists affected in office spaces close to the hospital," Nayager stated.

The private hospital group said patients can access these specialised services at other healthcare facilities, including a private hospital 14km away, and Netcare uMhlanga Hospital, which is 30km from the hospital.

"It is Netcare’s intention to create an 80-bed mental health service for adolescents and adults in the space that the current maternity, neonatal and paediatric units occupy, as this service is in short supply in the country and indeed in KwaZulu-Natal as is evident, as the National Department of Health has noted. The NDoH stated in June this year that more than 6.5 million people in South Africa are in need of professional mental health intervention, of which almost 1.3 million require care for severe psychiatric conditions," Nayager said.

She added that replacing the maternity, neonatal and overnight paediatric services, for which there is such low demand, with mental healthcare services will provide a solution for the hospital’s overall sustainability, making it possible for the hospital to continue offering a host of other specialised medical and surgical services, and protect the jobs of staff members.

What is changing from May 2023

With the KZN Department of Health’s approval the maternity, neonatal and paediatric units on the second floor will be replaced with mental health services for adolescents and adults.

Mothers delivering in the emergency department and their babies will be transferred to another suitable hospital once they are stable.

Of the child patients cared for at Netcare Alberlito Hospital, less than 20% require overnight admission.

More than 80% of paediatric healthcare services will remain available from healthcare professionals at the hospital and a limited number of beds will be available to accommodate paediatric patients overnight.

If the need to transfer patients arises, they will be transported to the closest most appropriate facility by Netcare’s 911 road ambulance service, which is based at the hospital and on standby 24/7 365 days a year and is also supported by its aero-medical services.

What is NOT changing

The hospital will remain fully resourced for all paediatric and maternity emergencies.

Same day admissions for children will also continue uninterrupted and child patients will be accommodated in a dedicated paediatric day ward. However, the hospital will only accommodate limited overnight services for paediatric patients when the need arises.

There will be no job losses for employees, in fact it is expected that jobs will be created, either at this hospital or other Netcare facilities.

The healthcare disciplines currently offered by specialist physicians include, among others, general surgery, urology, gynaecology, orthopaedics, ear nose and throat, plastic and reconstructive surgery, ophthalmology, pulmonology, endocrinology, and cardiology.

All these services will continue to be offered at the high levels of service that the Ballito community has become accustomed to.

The hospital will continue to provide comprehensive emergency medical services to the community. On average the emergency department sees more than 800 patients per month, with as many as 100 of these patients suffering from serious conditions that require immediate lifesaving intervention.