Fri Sep 22 09:54:28 SAST 2017

Mandela hospital ailing - needs half-a-billion rand to cover annual operational expenses

By Katharine Child | 2017-09-11 10:28:54.0

It took a billion rand in donations to build the Nelson Mandela Children's Hospital, but nine months after its launch, the facility is ailing.

The specialised paediatric hospital in Johannesburg lacks the funds to cover operational costs. Built to help the sickest state and private patients needing cancer treatment, dialysis or heart operations, it was supposed to be a model of National Health Insurance.

It needs half-a-billion rand to cover annual operational expenses but got R150-million from the state for the 2017/18 financial year.

Some doctors fear it will become a "white elephant".

The hospital has top-of-the-range equipment and theatres that can broadcast operations to remote locations for training or communicating to specialists abroad.

The Nelson Mandela Children's Hospital Trust told donors that government would cover running costs.

CEO Mandisa Maholwana said government "endorsed and committed to supporting the hospital as early as 2009".

But asked why all costs were not covered, National Treasury said: "This hospital was built by a non-profit [organisation] prior to formal financial commitments by government."

An agreement between the trust and government was signed last year. "Towards the end of 2016 this commitment was formalised with a written agreement between the hospital and government," said Maholwana.

The Treasury has not promised funding after the 2019/20 financial year, but would "re-evaluate as the commissioning takes place and in line with performance".

The hospital was supposed to open in December 2016, but the Treasury did not allocate money beforehand, so staff could not be hired.

Maholwana said the hospital trust was still raising funds.

"The main objective for us is to use the government funding to cover the baseline cost and be able to top up all the operational needs through fundraising." The hospital opened in June. Maholwana said safety concerns around child patients had delayed the opening, but the Treasury put the delays down to a shortage of funds.

Staffing is another problem. There is a countrywide shortage of specialised paediatric surgeons, cardiologists, paediatric anaesthetists and paediatric nurses.

It is a "white elephant," said one private doctor angrily.

Health spokesman Joe Maila said the hospital was needed. "We need more. In other countries they have many more children's hospitals than the whole continent." he said.