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Netcare frustrated by bureaucracy restricting nurse training

Thousands of potential nurses are being turned away by hospital group Netcare, previously the largest trainer of nurses in the private sector, while it awaits permission from the government.

Netcare, the biggest hospital group in South Africa, used to train around 3 500 nurses a year through its own nursing colleges. Now it is allowed only to train about 10% of that. It is supplementing its capacity by using agency nurses, and is coping well at the moment because, at current occupancy rates, its hospitals are not full. The group has also taken all administration tasks out of nurses’ duties.

With a decline in the number of COVID-19 patients in the group’s hospitals countrywide, the company is watching keenly for whether SA has reached an endemic phase of the virus – which would mean the disruptions that had pushed acute admissions to record lows could be history.

But CEO Richard Friedland and his team are frustrated and concerned over the shortage of nurses in South Africa. Netcare used to train thousands of nurses each year, but as it awaits accreditation, it has been forced to turn away applicants in droves and cut the number of nurses it trains by some 90%.

Friedland told News24 that Netcare has the capacity to produce the number of nurses it needs should occupancy in its hospitals reach 80% or more. But it has been waiting for permission from the government to do that for the past four years.

Growth ahead

Friedland and his team have cause to consider future staffing needs. There are currently only about 60 COVID-19 patients in Netcare hospitals countrywide, and all eyes are on the upcoming festive season to see whether the trend is maintained. If it proves true that SA has entered the endemic phase, the record lows seen as elective surgeries came to a standstill during the lockdowns could be over.

In turn, this means hospital occupancies could remain at levels above 65% or in excess of 70% during weekdays, levels that the likes of Netcare recorded before the pandemic.

Netcare's acute occupancy had already reached 66% in September and October. The new Netcare Alberton Hospital is already at 85% full-week occupancy. During the presentation of its financial results this past Monday, the company said it expected patient days to increase by up 7.5% in the absence of pandemic disruptions in its 2023 financial year. This could boost its normalised revenue between 9% and 12%.

Friedland is excited about the growth. The group recently opened two new hospitals in the year that ended on 30 September, which it needs to fill, i.e., Netcare Alberton Hospital and Netcare Akeso Richards Bay.

But capacity is a concern. “We are worried about the number of nurses being trained,” Netcare MD Jacques du Plessis told investors during the presentation of the group’s financials.

“We were the largest trainer of nurses in the private sector. We are still waiting for accreditation and permission to train in KwaZulu-Natal from the government, the Department of Health, and the South African Nursing Council. We’re appealing for these pipelines to be open because we have thousands upon thousands of applicants every year whom we have to turn away,” he said.


News24 article – Netcare frets over nursing shortage as red tape leaves it turning away thousands of trainees (Restricted access)


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Nursing Council resists training of new nurses, despite dire shortage, HASA conference told


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