Netcare hits back, accuses govt of breach of contract

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Limpho Sello

SOUTH African healthcare provider, Netcare Group, has accused the Lesotho government of breaching the terms of the two parties’ agreement when it resolved to take over the running of the Queen ’Mamohato Memorial Hospital (QMMH) this week.

The Ministry of Health took over the hospital on Sunday. This followed a 30 July 2021 announcement by Health Minister that the hospital and its Qoaling, Likotsi and Mabote Filter clinics would now be administered by the ministry due to several infractions allegedly committed over the years by Netcare.

Netcare is the biggest company in the Tšepong Consortium which has been running the hospital on behalf of the government since it opened its doors in 2011. The Consortium ran the hospital in terms of a 2008 public-private-partnership (PPP) agreement between the two parties.

The two sides had initially agreed to terminate the contract by 31 August 2021. But in announcing the abrupt takeover of the hospital over the weekend, Mr Sekatle accused Netcare of sabotage and looting of the hospital.

In a 31 July 2021 statement, Netcare has now hit back by accusing the government of ignoring the provisions of the PPP agreement “that are essential for a seamless handover to secure the safe continuation of healthcare services to the Basotho citizens”.

These provisions include clarity on the transfer of over 800 Tšepong employees, comprising clinicians, nurses, other staff and sub-contractor employees who are expecting formal offer letters of employment from the government, Netcare CEO, Richard Friedland said.

Dr Friedland said the “improper handover” ignored the basic employment rights of Tšepong staffers who have provided healthcare services since the hospital began operations.

“Notwithstanding that the merits for termination and repudiation of the PPP agreement by the government are disputed, Netcare has repeatedly stated that it will support an orderly handover process by 31 August 2021.

“We wish to warn against the hasty manner in which the government is seeking to expedite the handover process. This has the potential to create an unsafe operational environment, which may compromise the safety and care of patients. As Netcare, we will also not abandon or turn a blind-eye to the infringement of employees’ rights by the government.

“We are all concerned by the government’s recent actions and especially this recent decision. We have now written to the Prime Minister of Lesotho, the Right Honourable Dr Moeketsi Majoro, as well as our government and the South African High Commissioner to Lesotho (Sello Moloto) to express our concern.

“We have given repeated assurances that we will in no way endanger patient safety and care through this transition process, but we are now faced with this irresponsible decision that creates significant risk to the lives of patients under our care and the livelihoods of employees.”

Netcare has therefore urged the government to rethink this hasty decision given its “adverse implications”. It wants the government to reconsider its request for what it says will be an orderly and legally compliant transition.

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