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McCord Hospital’s fate turns again

Government officials and McCord Hospital’s board picked up negotiations as a court interdict has stalled the health facility’s closure.

McCord Hospital won’t be shut – for now.

Negotiations on Wednesday over the fate of McCord Hospital in Durban resumed between the hospital’s board of directors, the KwaZulu-Natal health department and the provincial treasury in a meeting that lasted hours.

This comes after the labour court granted the National Education Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) and three other unions an interim interdict on Tuesday to stop the board from retrenching staff. The court order is only effective until October 9, when a final ruling will be made on the hospital’s fate.  

A press conference by provincial health MEC Sibongiseni Dhlomo was cancelled on Wednesday because of renewed talks between the department and the board. KwaZulu-Natal health spokesperson Sam Mkhwanazi said negotiations were never concluded despite that fact that the board shut down the hospital last Friday.

According to the hospital’s board it rejected an offer that the government had made to buy the facility because it was far less than the value of the hospital. The government wanted to turn McCord into a public hospital. 

The provincial branch of the ANC said it was “irresponsible” of the board to “unilaterally announce to close the hospital while negotiations are still in progress”. Party provincial spokesperson Senzo Mkhize said it supports government’s bid to run the hospital as “this will ensure an uninterrupted provision of health services”.

In an interview on last week Wednesday, board chairperson Paulus Zulu said it had no choice but to close the hospital as it was running at a loss and patient numbers had dwindled. Failing to secure a government grant and the end of foreign aid crippled the hospital which operates as a non-profit organisation and charges minimal patient fees.

Public hospital

Earlier this year the board accepted an offer by the department to buy McCord and run it as a public hospital, but later the board decided the offer was too low.

The board has been severely criticised over the way it has handled the situation. Nehawu said it served as proof that the board was unqualified to run the hospital as they were “fixated with money”.

“The hospital evaluated its buildings at an amount of R124-million, but the department evaluator valued the structures at R55-million,” said Nehawu’s provincial secretary Zola Saphetha.  

The union is planning to march to Zulu’s office at the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Howard College Campus, where he is the director of the Maurice Webb Race Relations Unit. 

Ina Skosana was a health reporter at Bhekisisa.