South Africa’s largest private hospital group Netcare has put R800 million in capital expenditure projects on hold and redirected around R450 million to the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic within its network in the country.
That’s the word from Netcare CEO, Dr Richard Friedland, speaking to Moneyweb this week.
He says most of this money, around R300 million, is going towards the group buying personal protective equipment (PPE) for its frontline staff.
It comes in the wake of the worsening healthcare fallout from the pandemic, which has now seen three key private healthcare facilities in the country being forced to close to new admissions amid “outbreaks” of Covid-19 amongst hospital staff.
The latest casualty is a second Netcare facility in KwaZulu-Natal, the Kingsway Hospital near the coastal town of Amanzimtoti, south of Durban, which halted all new admissions on Wednesday after an unidentified number of staff and patients tested positive for the coronavirus.
Moneyweb also reported on Wednesday that Netcare’s JSE-listed rival, Mediclinic, had to close new admissions (barring emergencies) to its Morningside Mediclinic facility in Sandton, after 15 staff and four patients tested positive for Covid-19.
The closures to new admissions at Kingsway Hospital and Morningside Mediclinic, come in the wake of Netcare last week being forced to shutdown one of its flagship facilities in South Africa, the Netcare St Augustine’s Hospital in Berea, Durban, after more than 60 people, including 47 staff tested positive for Covid-19.
With 464 beds and almost 2 000 staff, St Augustine’s is Netcare’s largest medical campus in KwaZulu-Natal. Worth noting is that KwaZulu-Natal, which reported the first Covid-19 positive case in the country on March 5, continues to see the most deaths related to the virus.
According to latest stats released by Health Minister Zweli Mkhize on Wednesday night, the province now accounts for 18 of the 34 confirmed Covid-19 deaths in SA.
He reported that there were seven new virus-related deaths since Tuesday, six of which were senior pensioners from KwaZulu-Natal, all over the age of 70.
The other death was a 50-year-old man from Gauteng, which now has five confirmed Covid-19 deaths. The Western Cape still has eight confirmed deaths, while Free State province accounts for three deaths.
Mkhize’s latest statement was brief and did not reveal at which hospitals the latest virus-related deaths had occurred.
Speaking before the latest update, Friedland told Moneyweb that five deaths linked to the virus involved patients at the Netcare St Augustine’s Hospital. He said he could not reveal any further information on case numbers, as the national or provincial health departments had to first report on all cases.
“We have to abide by their rules; however, it is important to remember that KwaZulu-Natal did have the first few Covid-19 cases in South Africa. In fact, within Netcare’s hospitals in the province, St Augustine’s was one of the first to handle positive Covid-19 patients in mid-March and felt the full impact of the pandemic,” he said.
Friedland said that as soon as the outbreak at St Augustine’s came to the attention of the Netcare group’s executives, they decided to close the hospital to all new admissions as far back as April 3.
“We took the situation seriously from the start … After several staff and patients tested positive for Covid-19, we immediately closed the hospital to all new admissions and commenced a mass testing programme of all staff and people that may have visited the hospital,” he noted.
“The testing revealed that 47 staff had contracted the virus and all our attention as a group went towards dealing with the urgency of the situation at St Augustine’s, together with the assistance of the relevant health department officials. We also were treating 15 pre-existing, community-acquired Covid-19 patients within the hospital’s dedicated Covid-19 isolation units,” he said.
Friedland said the group’s decision to close one of its biggest hospitals to all new admissions and cancel all elective surgeries with the group’s network of hospitals highlighted how seriously it was tackling the “extraordinary challenge” of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“We want to resolve the situation at St Augustine’s as soon as possible and will leave no stone unturned and spare no cost in keeping every person in our care as well as our staff and doctors as safe as possible,” he said.
“Since mid-January we began preparing as a group around the possibility of Covid-19 coming to SA. We began the rollout of patient screenings at our hospitals, and in March after Covid-19 hit, we decided to halt all major capital expansion projects, worth around R800 million, within the Netcare group for the year,” he said.
“However, we have invested R150 million in boosting our ICUs and in purchasing new ventilators. We are also investing R300 million in buying appropriate medical PPE for all our staff in the face of Covid-19 pandemic,” Friedland pointed out.
He said that Netcare “fully supports the government-declared lockdown” to try to curb the pandemic. In line with this, the group had also decided to close all its onsite pharmacies and restaurants to visitors at its hospitals, in addition to restricting its patient visitors.