Mark Blackwood

NetCare is one of innumerable private health care providers, hell bent on plundering the National Health Service (NHS) budget in the pursuit of private profit.

Confidently the company boasts of it being “the largest private acute care hospital provider in the United Kingdom and an independent service provider to the National Health Service.”

Netcare has a controlling share of General Healthcare Group PLC,the UK’s largest private hospital group, which owns the BMI hospital chain in the UK and treats up to 15,000 NHS patients a year.

It is less happy to publish the fact that its former South African subsidiary was convicted in 2010 by a South African court for human organ trafficking.

Between 2000 and 2003, over 200 destitute Brazilians and Romanians were paid £3,840 for their kidneys to be transplanted to wealthy Israelis, treated by Netcare’s subsidiary company Netcare KwaZulu-Natal at St. Augustine’s Hospital in Durban, South Africa.

The donors, or in this case exploited victims, were presented as relatives of the fee-paying Israeli patients suffering from kidney disease.

In order not to raise suspicion of what was taking place, the charge sheet stated that Netcare’s “documents related to surgeries were forged to make it appear that the recipient and the donor were family members.”

However, none of the kidney donors had Israeli surnames or spoke Hebrew and likewise, none of the recipients had Romanian or Brazilian surnames and were unable to speak the language of their respective donors.

According to a 2010 Guardian report, the kidneys “were initially sourced from Israeli citizens, but later Romanian and Brazilian citizens were recruited as their kidneys were obtainable at much lower cost than those of the Israeli suppliers.”

Five of the kidneys extracted to be used in operations during this period were taken from children.

Reporting on the subject in April of last year, South Africa’s Mail & Guardian explained, “In theory, the buck stops with the doctor doing the cutting, but in reality, the transplant surgeons were little more than skilled mechanics dealing with bodies on an assembly line, maintained, paid for and legally underwritten by the big healthcare factory that is the Netcare Group.”

This is an altogether different assessment of the company to that laid down as its “vision and values,” i.e., “We continue to focus on living our core value of care, and the associated values of dignity, participation, truth and passion.”

The company was fined a measly £704,000 after pleading guilty for its transgressions in South Africa, while maintaining its case that it was simply a technical plea. When questioned about the plea Netcare’s company chairman Jerry Vilakazi explained to the Mail & Guardian, “The reason Netcare KZN pleaded guilty was because it became evident–that certain employees of Netcare KZN (who are no longer in its employ) must have been aware that certain of the cross-border operations that were carried out at St Augustine’s hospital were illegal.”

He strenuously denied the board of directors had any knowledge of what was taking place. But evidence suggested that the kidney transplant programme was first initiated at Netcare hospitals in Johannesburg and Cape Town, before being extended to Durban where the enterprise was finally exposed.

The Mail & Guardian report highlighted the fact that Netcare’s current chief executive Richard Freidland who was chief operating officer for the company at the time was “a member of both boards.” However, the company’s directors gave two statements under oath insisting they were unaware that the operations were unlawful and that they were misled by false representations that were made to them and to other employees and representatives of Netcare”.

The company claimed they had been “intentionally misled by false statements that were made under oath” by donors! To date no representative of the board of directors has been prosecuted for the scandal.