The 3rd of December marked 50 years since Professor Christiaan Barnard performed the first human-to-human heart transplant at Groote Schuur Hospital (GSH). Since Prof Barnard’s innovative accomplishment, GSH has continued to lead with innovation, positioning the hospital as a model for excellence in public health.

CEO of GSH, Dr Bhavna Patel, defines innovation as anything that is different and that generates improvement in the way that the hospital functions.

Operational efficiency

As the Western Cape’s largest academic hospital, Groote Schuur has over 500 doctors, 1,500 nurses and 1,600 allied staff treating more than 4,000 patients every month – 1,400 of whom require surgery. Although the hospital represents a massive logistical operation; Dr Patel says the staff’s constant focus on high individual care is one of the factors that make the hospital an exemplary model.

“However big we are and whatever our role is, our job is to provide world-class treatment for anyone, irrespective of their means, and we’re managing to do that on a wider scale than ever before,” said Dr Patel.

Dr Patel highlights some other big monthly numbers at Groote Schuur:

  • R80m paid to suppliers each month, including R8m for medication and R3.8m for electricity
  • 88,000 meals cooked
  • 300 light bulbs replaced
  • 400,000 litres of water recycled and overall water consumption down 56% over the past six years
  • 2 tons of coal consumed – down by 45% since 2011
  • 270,000 items of linen used

To keep up with the growing demands of services while maintaining quality standards, the hospital implanted the Groote Schuur Performance System (GPS), a system where improvements are being facilitated by using a standardised method. This encourages a process of continuous improvement.

In addition to GPS, the hospital is using technology to increase staff capacity and manage theatre schedules. This is happening in a few places, for example, the hospital has a theatre management system in place for emergency cases where the system prioritises which operations are done when; and there is also a Nursing Management system, which determines where staff is allocated and how to mitigate against shortages.

New wave of innovation

Innovation is still the heart of GSH, whether it’s redesigning processes to improve services, efficiency or quality patient care. In 2014, GSH in collaboration with the Bertha Centre for Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the University of Cape Town (UCT) Graduate School of Business, and UCT’s Faculty of Health Sciences, launched the GSH Innovation Programme – a first of its kind in Africa. The staff-led initiative aims to find new ways to tackle some of the hospital’s biggest challenges.

GSH developed the Innovation Hub where staff could present their ideas and turn them into a reality, such as the Referrals Project which aimed to rollout an electronic referral platform across various departments of the hospital and thus streamlining the hospital’s referral system.

Staff received funding, expertise and the mentorship they needed to bring their ideas to life. At the beginning of 2015, 17 teams showcased their ideas, from which the top 10 were chosen to take part in the year-long programme. At the end of the programme the 10 teams reflected on their innovation journey and presented lessons they learnt along away. The resounding message was the importance of collaboration and communication to drive innovation.

To commemorate the 50th anniversary landmark, the hospital’s Facilities Board is celebrating “Grotties” as a centre of excellence, and launching a fund-raising drive to help sustain its services.

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