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Cape hospital agrees deal to treat Saints

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Tygerberg Hospital. Picture by courtesy of Dr Trygve Berge

A deal to treat St Helenians at a public hospital in the Western Cape could mean an end to private treatment for islanders in South Africa – but not yet.

St Helena Government (SHG) has signed a ‘service level agreement’ with the Tygerberg Hospital, for treatment that cannot be provided on island.

The deal is for a short trial period only, ‘whilst the agreement with Tygerberg develops’. Most patients will continue to be referred to hospitals that were providing care for islanders before the arrangement was agreed.

An SHG statement says: ‘Maintaining the quality of care will be paramount in our developing relationship with Tygerberg Hospital.’

In 2011, the cost-effectiveness of overseas treatment was examined by the officials in Jamestown. Roughly 2% of the island population are referred for overseas treatment each year.

The hospital, in the Parow district of Cape Town, aims to provide ‘affordable world class quality health care to public and private patients within available resources’.

It was opened in 1976 as a teaching facility for the University of Stellenbosch, and says its vision is ‘to be the best academic hospital in Africa.’

It was designed for 1,899 beds, but only 1,310 are in use at present, according to the hospital website.

They include the 308 beds of the Tygerberg Children’s hospital.

Facilities include a dental faculty, research facilities, a centre for deaf children, and services such as a bank and post office.

More than 90,000 patients are admitted each year, and another half a million people visit as out-patients. The hospital carries out more than 25,000 operations a year.

Specialist services include open heart surgery, kidney transplants, mental health care, cancer treatment, intensive care for new-born babies, poison advice and a burns unit.

During the normal working day there are about 10 000 people on the hospital site. It has nearly 900 doctors, and more than 1,200 nursing staff.

Improving health care for St Helenians is one of the priorities set out in the island’s draft Sustainable Development Plan, along with better housing. Both are felt to be needed to attract expat Saints back to the island to help transform its economy once its new airport is open – scheduled for 2015.

The hope is that increased money from tourism and inward investment will pay for the health service – including overseas referrals, which would no longer involve sick patients embarking on the long sea journey to Cape Town.

But the development plan acknowledges that even with a buoyant economy, health budgets will be tight.

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