Netcare says private hospitals must charge more to pay nurses properly

Zweli Mokgata

Zweli Mokgata

Private hospital bills need to become more expensive so that nurses can be paid properly, Netcare chief executive Richard Friedland said in an analyst presentation yesterday.

"Nurses have been traditionally underpaid and we are trying to address that," he said.

Netcare currently has 1112 vacancies for registered nurses - more than the government trained in 2005. The number of registered nurses trained at state hospitals has been cut to 40percent of the 2629 who qualified in 1996.

Netcare's five-year programme to address the shortage will see 181 nurses qualifying next year and this will grow to 500 in 2011.

The JSE-listed group, which also operates hospitals in the UK, is attempting to address its skills shortage by encouraging South Africans abroad to return. It has 102 interviews lined up in London in October.

It is also busy applying to Home Affairs for corporate permits for 550 foreign nurses from India and Central Europe.

Netcare's warning of a tariff increase next year comes in the wake of Health Minister Manto Tshabala-Msimang's threat to bring private healthcare costs down through state intervention. "Our pricing will still be below our highest priced competitor," Friedland said.

"Netcare's theatre charges can be as much as 45percent lower than some of our competitors," he said.

Ward and theatre charges accounted for more than half of an average hospital bill. Surgical consumables, like dressings and syringes, accounted for a third and pharmaceuticals the rest, Friedland said.

"We currently charge around R1197 for a night's stay in the general ward and around R200 more if the patient insists on a private room," Life Healthcare billing auditor Petro Marais said.

Marais said there was no fixed cost for time in the surgical theatre. "We charge in 15 minute units at R977 per unit," she said.

"This includes anesthetic, but not extras such as drugs, equipment and instruments."