THE Eastern Cape could soon be home to the biggest medical school in the country, according to provincial health boss Dr Siva Pillay.

Plans have already been drawn up and approved for a massive R2.2-billion injection into the dilapidated Nelson Mandela Academic Hospital in Mthatha.

When complete the institution will become the biggest teaching hospital in the country.

Pillay, who is the superintendent-general (SG) of the department, has so much confidence in the project he has already spent about R200 000 from his own pocket to pay for the initial plans.

According to Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi, the “facelift” will be in “preparation for National Health Insurance (NHI)”.

It forms part of the 10-point plan to “reengineer” the public sector ahead of the NHI’s roll-out. Pillay said yesterday the teaching hospital would be “the first of its kind in South Africa”. “It is going to be the country’s top teaching platform.”

Describing the teaching hospital as a “future vision”, Pillay said the money would be mainly used to build classrooms and buy tools to teach and other equipment. He declined to reveal specific details. “We are doing a feasibility study on the way forward. We should know more soon.”

The provincial department’s director of communications, Siyanda Manana, said yesterday: “The R2.2bn project is linked to improving the teaching platform and not to building new hospitals.”

He said the expansion would allow the hospital to rival Cuba’s training hospitals, which produce 5 000 professionals a year.

He said the Eastern Cape was able produce only 2 000 professionals.

“We will follow international standards and will also source international professors,” Manana said.

The hospital will maintain its relationship with Walter Sisulu University (WSU).

“WSU has branches in East London and Port Elizabeth so in preparation, those branches will start offering basic courses and later on develop into medical institutions,” he said. “For the KSD (King Sabata Dalindyebo) municipality it will mean socio-economic development that will also address the backlog of doctors in our province.”

COPE’s provincial chief whip in Bhisho, Mbulelo Ntenjwa, said it was important for the programme to make a difference “It must have an impact on the province.” DA health spokesperson John Cupido said: “The money should be used to fix all the hospitals in the province. Long-term it might be good but there are more pressing matters. We need to get the basics right before we start such projects.”

The SA Medical Association’s Border spokesman, Dr Bjorn Uys, could not be reached for comment. The association’s national spokeswoman Phophi Ramathuba said the government’s plan was welcomed. — michaelk@dispatch.co.za