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Celebrating a momentous milestone, Mediclinic Newcastle turns 25 years old today, 13 December 2021.
Hailing from a humble beginning and created for all people—we speak to a few of the founders. The original people who were there from day one. The dedicated souls who successfully changed the fate of countless lives while overcoming numerous odds.
Today, 25 years later, the flourishing private hospital is a shrine of excellence and commitment to Newcastillians. However, many people are unaware of the private hospital’s significant influence within the medical sector in both Newcastle and Northern KwaZulu-Natal. Let alone its invaluable input into creating equality in medical care.
Therefore, looking back, Dr Prem Naicker explains that the hospital’s existence stems from the need to serve all of Newcastle’s residents, not just a select few.
“When the decision was made to look at starting a private hospital, Newcastle Provincial Hospital only assisted Coloured, Indian and White patients. Black patients had to go the Madadeni Provincial Hospital.”
Frustrated with the inequality, the doctor states that this was unfortunate as local doctors had many black patients who they felt deserved the same treatment as their other patients.
Determined to correct this wrong, a group of doctors decided to approach the management of the Newcastle Provincial Hospital and officials from the KZN Provincial Government about turning one of the hospital’s wings into a private care facility. This, however, did not happen.
Yet, when digging deeper, Dr Naicker explains that the doctors involved in the fight to reform Newcastle’s healthcare system learned of a moratorium on private medical facilities. (A moratorium is a delay or suspension of an activity or a law).
Thankfully, change was on the cards for the dedicated team.
Taking action on the updated legislation, when the moratorium was lifted, a group of local doctors banded together, devising a plan to establish a private hospital. One that would provide optimal care to all Newcastillians, regardless of race.
Dr Naicker, Dr Brian Wilson, and Dr Thembile then made plans to meet with Dr Sibongiseni Maxwell Dhlomo, the then KZN MEC for Health. This historical meeting for Mediclinic Newcastle set a chain of incredible events in motion.
According to Dr Otto Nel, it’s important to note that forming the medical doctors’ group Nepo (Newcastle practitioners organisation) ensured that their combined voices were heard and taken seriously.
After pushing for equal medical care, the news arrived that they could obtain the necessary license as a group.
After forming a panel, the devoted doctors then got to work, choosing the most suitable location for the hospital, with the hospital’s current site ranking third on the list.
“We started off as Hospiplan Hospital, with 76 beds and three theaters. Every doctor invested in the hospital. This was a major decision and win/win for all the races, doctors and patients, and for Newcastle,” says Dr Nel.
Construction began, and the hospital opened on 13 December 1996. The late Dr Frank Mdlalose presided over the ceremony. (Dr Mdlalose was the former Premier of KZN).
“We as a Board were delighted and stressed about the venture. But within three days the hospital was full and stayed like that for many years,” affirms Dr Nel.
Considering the journey thus far, Dr Naicker adds, “Mediclinic Newcastle is an institute to be proud of. We have a wide range of specialists, covering virtually every aspect of the medical sector. It is truly a hospital dedicated to the community.”
Dr Nel, the hospital’s chairman for about 20 years, agrees with Dr Naicker. “Over the years there was a gradual increase of specialists and ICU and neonatal and maternity, children, psychiatric beds, X-rays, ER department and the Day clinic. Now we have full Neurosurgery and neurology departments also.”
Furthermore, Dr Nel emphasises that Mediclinic Newcastle is poised to boom and become the medical hub in a 200km area around Newcastle. “For the hospital to survive we need the people of Newcastle and surroundings to revive our local economy. We are very well positioned to do just that. We are very proud of what we achieved in Newcastle and the future is very good.”
Dr Yvonne Combrinck, the Nursing Manager at Mediclinic Newcastle, explains that witnessing the hospital’s transformation from a small 76-bed facility to a comprehensive medical campus has provided her with precious memories.
“The people I worked with over the years, some for many years, will not be forgotten. A beautiful building, although essential, only comes alive because of the people in it. I was privileged to work closely with colleagues, our nursing team, managers, and our Board of Directors for the past 25 years. We share great memories of success, challenges and lessons learned. Every newly developed facility from which our community could benefit left us with nothing less than utmost pride.”
With the hospital being erected, Dr Combrinck recalls how the news sparked excitement and expectation in Newcastle. The tremendous efforts of a few courageous people now resulting in a historical achievement. “As each layer of bricks was added, everyone waited for the hospital’s completion with bated breath.”
Additionally, she says, “My curriculum vitae was finalised long before the completion of the building. Everyone was talking about the new private healthcare setting. I was appointed as the Nursing Manager in November 1996, one month before the opening of the hospital and privileged to be part of the hospital ever since.”
Supporting Dr Nel’s earlier comment, Dr Combrinck emphasises that the hospital experienced high occupancy levels almost from the day it opened its doors. “Surgical and medical patients were accommodated in one general ward. We had a four-bedded critical care unit and a small maternity ward. The three theatres were also put to work immediately. Being commissioned over the festive period had unique challenges because of suppliers closing down. I drove to Ermelo private hospital more than once to secure some needed equipment. Our staffing structures were lean, and everyone did what their hands found to do.”
Moreover, Dr Combrinck adds that the personnel were new and unfamiliar with the systems and processes of a private hospital. “We had to develop and learn as fast as we could. We took small steps and did well at the time. Today we take much pride in what our hospital and we have become.”
Beaming with pride, and rightfully so, she states that Mediclinc Newcastle’s growth over the years is almost unimaginable. “I can recall our Board of Directors speaking and wanting to establish this facility as a centre of excellence for Northern KwaZulu-Natal.
I thought it to be a tall order at the time. But today, we are almost there. Our hospital campus serves the community with seven operating theatres, a beautifully developed psychiatric facility, a state-of-the-art day hospital, and the main hospital with medical, surgical, obstetric, neonatal, paediatric, emergency, and critical care units. We are blessed to have such a facility in our midst.”
Serving as the previous Hospital General Manager for 22 of the 25 years, Freddie Meiring says he is privileged to have been a part of Mediclinic Newcastle’s journey. He says he will never forget the staff who contributed to the hospital’s services. Furthermore, Meiring adds that he will also always remember the management team that stood together in the face of difficult circumstances. “I was always proud to be counted as one of them. I salute them,” he asserts.
Having been at the hospital from the beginning, Meiring reflects on his time at Mediclinic Newcastle. “The hospital was built, in my opinion, as a “budget” hospital with minimum staff and resources. We were handed a building and equipment and had to get by with what we were given- and we did.”
Despite describing his time at the hospital as a steep learning curve, Meiring emphasises, “It is with lots of pleasant memories that I think back on the 22 years that I had the privilege to be the Hospital General Manager of Mediclinic Newcastle.”
He points out that with the help of a forward-thinking hospital board of directors, a regional hospital for Newcastle could be built that provided excellent service to the broader community.
“Looking back over the 22 years that I was there, I am still in awe of what we achieved as a team with the resourced that we had.”
It should be noted that, according to Meiring, Mediclinic decided to launch their new brand during the course of 2010, and the hospital was asked to consider adopting the same brand. He claims that after some deliberation, the board decided it was time for a change and adopted the new Mediclinic brand. This resulted in a second christening ceremony on 1 November 2011, when the hospital was renamed Mediclinic Newcastle.
Meiring says, “It was believed that the new Mediclinic brand would add more value to the continued growth of this girl in the years to come.” Congratulating Mediclinic Newcastle on its 25th anniversary, Meiring concludes by recognising and thanking those who were instrumental in the hospital’s early years. They include:
- The late Dr Kobus Pottas
- Dr Otto Nel
- Dr Josh Matambo
- Dr Mahesh Dhanjee
- Dr Yvonne Combrinck
- Sr Thekla Bohmer
- Sr Ina Pretorius
- EN Elaine Beeslaar
- ENA Johanna Williams
- Beauty Shabalala
- Bheki Mthanti
With an extraordinary story behind this passion created hospital and an even brighter future, join us in celebrating Mediclinic Newcastle’s 25th birthday by sharing your messages and memories in the comment section below.
This post and content is sponsored and provided by Mediclinic Newcastle.