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Acrimonious divorce

  •  Tšepong finally vacates QMMH and govt takes over,
  • Netcare accused of looting hospital, sabotage ahead of departure.

Limpho Sello

THE divorce is finally happening.

The Tšepong Consortium is set to pull out of the Queen Mamohato Memorial Hospital (QMMH) with effect from today. The government will take over the running of the hospital, Health Minister Semano Sekatle has said.

In a weekend press conference, Mr Sekatle said the government will also take over QMMH’s three filter clinics, namely, the Qoaling, Likotsi and Mabote clinics.

And the break-up of the 13-year-old partnership is far from amicable. It is a messy divorce. Such is the acrimony and bad blood between the two sides that Mr Sekatle used his weekend press conference to accuse, Netcare, the biggest company in the Consortium, of sabotage and looting ahead of handing over the hospital and its clinics to the government.

“The government wishes to announce that as of Sunday 1 August 2021 (today), the Ministry of Health will take over the full running of QMMH,” Mr Sekatle said.

“The government is also taking over the Qoaling, Likotsi and Mabote Filter clinics. The Likotsi and Qoaling clinics will be managed together with other government clinics in the Maseru district while Mabote will now be managed under the Berea district.”

Mr Sekatle said they would still engage in talks with the Consortium “with regards to the hospital’s finances, staffers, equipment and other documentation that is of value in this termination process”.

He said Netcare’s decision to downsize operations at QMMH ahead of handing the facility over to the government was totally uncalled for. He said it was an act of sabotage which was meant to tarnish the image of the government in the eyes of the public.

“What they did was pure sabotage. How could they suspend some key services and instruct a mere security guard at the gate to turn away patients even without knowing their condition?

“One of the sad things that happened during the week (last week) was that they had to refer an eight-year-old patient to a private health facility for a computerised tomography (CT) scan because they do not have such a service.

“You may recall that one of the reasons why we had engaged the Tšepong Consortium was for it to ensure that the hospital has this kind of equipment to save us from referring patients elsewhere including South Africa. But they have failed to source the equipment even when we were financing them to do so.”

Mr Sekatle also accused Netcare of looting equipment from the hospital and the three clinics on 7 July 2021. He said the ‘looted’ equipment included bed sheets, mattresses and sensors.

“Initially they (Netcare) denied taking the equipment but they now admit taking it. They however, excuse their actions by claiming that that the equipment was theirs and even had Netcare branding. This does not make sense because these are government facilities and the Consortium was only operating them on behalf of government,” Mr Sekatle said.

Although the two sides have been feuding for a long time and had agreed to terminate their contractual relationship, tensions escalated three weeks ago when the Consortium began scaling down operations at QMMH and the filter clinics ahead of handing them over to the government.

Hundreds of patients, including those with terminal conditions, were turned away as the Consortium said it would only attend to what it said were emergencies.

Even life-threatening conditions like diabetes and hypertension were not considered emergencies as patients with these conditions were also turned away.

Instead of getting some help, they were told that they could not be attended to because theirs were not considered emergencies.

There was no compassion even for the elderly as they were told to go elsewhere for services.

Some of the stranded female patients even milled outside the hospital in the vain hope that they would eventually be allowed in.

Even patients who had already been booked for check-ups were not allowed past the hospital gates. The hospital staff and security told them to go elsewhere because the Consortium had downsized its operations ahead of handing over the hospital and related facilities to the government. This after the government’s March 2021 decision to cut ties with the Consortium which has run QMMH since it opened its doors in 2011.

Announcing the decision, Mr Sekatle said the government felt it could no longer continue its 18-year PPP entered into in 2008 with the Consortium for the construction, running and transfer of the hospital due to serious differences which had plagued the agreement from the very beginning.

South African healthcare group, Netcare, has a 40 percent stake in the Consortium. Four other companies, namely, Afri’nnai of South Africa; Excel Health, Women Investment and D10 Investments (all from Lesotho) hold the balance of the shares.

Mr Sekatle had said although the government and the Consortium had differed over many issues, the final straw was the latter’s March 2021 decision to fire 200 striking nurses and nursing assistants at the institution.

The nurses went on strike on 1 February 2021 to press the government and QMMH to award them salary increments to match their counterparts in other government and private institutions.

QMMH nurses said they had not been awarded any increments since 2012 when the government and the Christian Health Association of Lesotho (CHAL) increased the salaries of nurses at other institutions.

According to the Lesotho Nurses Association (LNA), nurses at QMMH earn about M9000 each per month. The figure is way less than the M13 000 earned by their colleagues in CHAL facilities and other government hospitals.

After the firing of the nurses, Health ministry Principal Secretary (PS) Khothatso Tšooana had written to the Consortium informing it of the government’s decision to terminate the contract.

In his 12 April 2021 reply to PS Tšooana, Tšepong general manager Zondy Mohapi indicated that the Consortium would not challenge the termination of its contract but would demand the requisite compensation.

However, the Consortium vehemently denied any wrongdoing, including claims that it had fleeced the government and repeatedly failed to offer specialised care to patients over the years.

The Consortium agreed to vacate the hospital but said the government would have to compensate it for the premature termination of the 18-year PPP deal.

Although the Consortium had been given up to the end of this month to leave, it announced early last month that it would be departing earlier than that date.

However, there are fears that the Consortium’s premature and abrupt departure will plunge the hospital into turmoil as there are doubts among the staff about the government’s capacity to take over the running of the hospital.

To dispel those fears, Mr Sekatle said they had resolved to bring in Basotho experts

chosen on the basis of their qualifications, capability and experience.

He said the experts include Dr Norbert Chale Moji who will manage the operations of the hospital; Dr Lipontšo Makakole who will deputise Dr Moji while focusing on clinical services; Colonel ‘Mamoi Mofelehetsi (Administration and Support Services); Sister Mathaabe Raseleso (head of Nursing Services) and Dr Makhetha Mosotho who will manage the Likotsi and Qoaling clinics.

Meanwhile, QMMH Public Relations Officer, Thakane Mapeshoane-Sepipi, refused to comment on the government takeover of QMMH and its filter clinics. She said she had not been authorised to speak on the issue.

 

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