All change: Merger goes ahead for controversial hospital

ZNA Cadix, the Belgian hospital that caused uproar when it suspended and then cut links with its entire staff of seven radiologists last month, has now been involved in a merger deal that will result in the formation of one of Europe's largest hospitals.

The owner of Cadix, Ziekenhuis Netwerk Antwerpen, and Gasthuiszusters Antwerpen (GZA) is to merge to create Ziekenhuis aan de Stroom (ZAS), according to a report posted on 2 July by De Standaard. The new super hospital will become a complex consisting of 14 different campuses and three smaller centers, with a total of 3,300 beds, 9,000 employees, 1000 doctors, and a turnover of €1.2 billion.

However, the Competition Authority (BMA) decided that ZAS would not be given "carte blanche," the article noted. The BMA has attached conditions to the merger because "serious doubts" arose, including about the possibility of higher fees and room supplements. ZAS will be closely monitored by the BMA for three to five years, and the authority will also monitor the general guarantee to maintain autonomy with respect to the other hospitals.

"The government is actively working on networking, to avoid too much overlap," Carine Vande Voorde, of the Federal Knowledge Centre for Healthcare and University of Leuven, told De Standaard. The merger may also offer opportunities to do things more efficiently, with more specialization within sites, she stated.

Willeke Dijkhoffz, CEO of the new hospital, said the merger is aimed at improving quality. "In the south of Antwerp, for example, the hospitals ZAS Middelheim and ZAS Augustinus are close to each other. Middelheim is known for cardiology, Augustinus for oncology. We want to strengthen that even more. It is wiser to look for synergies there than to compete with each other."

Meanwhile, details have emerged about the arrangement struck with the seven radiologists who lost their jobs at ZNA Cadix.

An article posted on 24 June by De Specialist noted that the audit of the radiologists' work will probably continue, but without the risk of anything being revealed due to the agreement reached between the radiologists and their former hospital. In effect, this means all "leakage" of information is legally covered, so the outside world will never know anything, a source told

"Almost certainly the management will have made a big payment to the individual radiologists to get rid of them," said another source, adding that in return for agreeing to a code of silence, the radiologists may receive two to three years' salary, or perhaps even more.

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