“Notwithstanding the constrained macro environment, the Netcare Group has delivered a robust performance, delivering on all operational and strategic targets over the past financial year.”
Dr Richard Friedland, chief executive officer, Netcare Group.
- 9.5% increase in Group revenue to R23 699 million
- 17.7% growth in normalised Group EBITDA, demonstrating strong operating leverage
- 120 basis point improvement in normalised Group EBITDA margin to 17.4%
- 27.0% increase in adjusted HEPS to 105.7 cents
- 100.5% cash conversion ratio
- 1.2 times net debt to EBITDA ratio
- R1.1 billion returned to shareholders in dividends and share buybacks
- 30.0% increase in total dividends to 65.0 cents
For the year ended 30 September 2023, the Netcare Group’s profit after tax and exceptional items increased by 27.2% to R1 336 million (FY 2022: R1 050 million) and adjusted HEPS increased by 27.0% to 105.7 cents (FY 2022: 83.2 cents). A sustained improvement in activity, off a largely organic base, supported revenue growth of 9.5%. Coupled with tight cost control notwithstanding the high inflationary environment, this has resulted in excellent operating leverage, reflected in the 23.9% growth in operating profit.
Group chief executive officer, Dr Richard Friedland commented, “We are encouraged by the ongoing normalisation and resilient demand for private healthcare services, allowing the Group to continue on the solid trajectory reported during the first half of this past financial year.”
Total paid patient days (PPDs), inclusive of acute and mental health, increased by 6.7% with improved occupancies of 64.4% for FY 2023 (FY 2022: 60.1%).
Dr Friedland continued, “It is also very pleasing that we have made excellent progress in implementing our key strategic projects. The CareOn digitisation project is nearing completion and has been successfully rolled out at 38 acute hospitals to date, covering 90% of beds. The project is delivering tangible benefits for patients across the Netcare ecosystem, and the gross financial benefits of R104 million in FY 2023 have exceeded expectations.”
Similarly, Netcare’s environmental sustainability strategy continued to deliver financial savings and plays a pivotal role in reducing exposure to the impacts of the instability of the national electricity grid. In line with the 2030 sustainability strategy, the Group concluded an agreement for a renewable energy (RE) supply arrangement with NOA Group Trading, a renewable energy trader. This agreement will increase the proportion of Netcare’s total energy consumption derived from RE sources to c26% and represents an important step towards Netcare’s goal of achieving 100% reliance on RE sources by 2030. Netcare is currently exploring further grid-wheeling opportunities that will potentially increase RE-derived energy to c.40%.
In order to address the growing demand for mental healthcare services in South Africa, Netcare successfully commissioned Netcare Akeso Gqeberha (72 beds) in May 2023. Sales of NetcarePlus products to the retail and corporate segments continue to gain traction, contributing to the Netcare ecosystem through increased access to private healthcare beyond traditional medical schemes and the increased use of its services. Netcare Diagnostics progressed with the rollout of validated and quality assured point of care devices across Netcare’s intensive and high care units, theatres and emergency departments as well as Medicross medical and dental centres.
Dr Friedland said, “We remain committed to our Consistency of Care strategy, broadening the measurement of clinical outcomes and patient experience to ensure we deliver on our core purpose of providing the best and safest care to our patients.”
Cash generated from operations was strong, increasing to R4 135 million (FY 2022: R3 950 million), and the cash conversion ratio amounted to 100.5% (FY 2022: 113.0%). In line with the capital allocation strategy of returning excess cash to shareholders, the Group executed a share buyback programme that, collectively, entailed the repurchase of 33.7 million shares at a cost of R444 million.
Similarly, in line with the dividend policy, which aims to provide shareholders with a sustainable dividend of 50% - 70% of earnings, the Board declared a final dividend of 35.0 cents per share. This, together with an interim dividend of 30.0 cents per share represents 61.5 % of adjusted HEPS and an increase of 30.0% over FY 2022.
Netcare is encouraged by the ongoing improvement in the Group’s financial performance as demand continues to normalise from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The higher activity levels, coupled with ongoing efficiencies, resulted in strong operating leverage and an improvement in Group EBITDA margins of 120 basis points to 17.4%, from 16.2% in FY 2022.
Total capex, including strategic projects, amounted to R1.5 billion for the year, of which R136 million related to expansionary projects, including the completion of construction of the new Netcare Akeso Gqeberha facility and R82 million invested in the hospital digitisation project.
The Group incurred operational costs relating to strategic projects of R258 million (FY 2022: R249 million).
Netcare experienced an average of Stage 3.6 loadshedding across its facilities during the year, resulting in a sharp increase in generator diesel costs to R124 million from R37 million in FY 2022.
At 30 September 2023, the Group‘s cash resources and available undrawn committed facilities amounted to R3.7 billion.
Hospital and emergency services
The segment delivered a steady performance for FY 2023, driven by continued recovery in demand and further normalisation of the post COVID-19 operating environment.
Revenue for the segment increased by 9.6% to R23 050 million (FY 2022: R21 024 million) and total patient days increased by 6.7% to 2 447 494 days in FY 2023 (FY 2022: 2 293 344 days). The steady increase in activity contributed to higher occupancy levels with total occupancy of 64.4% (FY 2022: 60.1%).
Notwithstanding the changes in various networks that were effective from January 2023, a milder flu season and extended vacations by specialists, acute hospital patient days increased by a solid 6.1% against FY 2022, equating to 95.1% of FY 2019 with ICU and high care PPDs being 10.1% higher than pre-pandemic levels.
In line with the trend reported in H1 2023, year-to-date growth in medical PPDs of 8.5% continued to outpace surgical PPD growth of 3.9%. Medical PPDs have recovered to 99.0% of 2019 levels, while surgical PPDs continue to be impacted by sector trends, inter alia, declining maternity cases, as well as an outmigration of lower margin day cases, and have recovered to 91.7% of pre-pandemic levels. Total surgical cases comprised 51.5% of patient days (FY 2022: 52.6%; pre-pandemic levels: 53.4%) and medical cases 48.5% (FY 2022: 47.4%; pre-pandemic levels: 46.6%). Surgical cases continue to contribute more than 70% of revenue.
Demand for mental healthcare remains strong with mental health patient days increasing by 12.7% compared to FY 2022. The newly opened Netcare Akeso Gqeberha facility contributed 2.3% of this growth. Activity has surpassed pre-pandemic levels by 5.4% (same store) and 11.6% inclusive of the 36-bed Netcare Akeso Richards Bay facility (commissioned in May 2022) and the 72-bed Netcare Akeso Gqeberha facility (commissioned in May 2023).
The strong increase in mental healthcare activity has resulted in occupancies improving to 72.7% (73.5% excluding Netcare Akeso Gqeberha) in FY 2023 from 68.1% in FY 2022 (FY 2019: 71.6%).
In 2023, Netcare Christiaan Barnard Memorial Hospital received Level 1 trauma accreditation from the Trauma Society of South Africa, which is aligned to the American Trauma Society accreditation principles. There are only four hospitals in South Africa that have achieved this status, all of which are in the Netcare Group.
Netcare’s geographic footprint, electronic medical records (EMR) offering, and highly accredited facilities, allow the Group to continue attracting specialists and a net 124 doctors were granted admission rights at acute and mental healthcare facilities during FY 2023.
Total GP and dental visits decreased by 3.1% in FY 2023 compared to FY 2022. The decline in visits is predominantly attributable to the higher base in FY 2022, which was boosted by increased COVID-19 GP visits during the Omicron-driven fourth wave. Revenue increased by 4.6% to R663 million. EBITDA margins were adversely impacted by diesel fuel costs.
Netcare has made excellent progress in the implementation of its key strategic projects and is now well placed to benefit from the rapidly changing dynamics driving demand in the healthcare sector.
Digitisation: Significant progress has been made in the implementation of the CareOn hospital EMR offering, which is a major focus of the digitisation strategy. This new way of care has been successfully implemented at 38 of the 45 Netcare hospitals to date, comprising 8 645 beds (90% of registered beds). In addition, over 28 000 healthcare professionals, comprising nurses, doctors, allied health professionals and pharmacists are actively using the system. Rollout to the final seven hospitals (943 beds) will be completed by April 2024. Dr Friedland said, “We remain confident that this investment will create a sustainable competitive advantage for the Group and will prove pivotal in laying the foundations in achieving our strategy of person centred health and care that is digitally enabled and data driven.” Digitisation has now been completed across all ancillary businesses in the Netcare ecosystem spanning across Netcare Akeso, Netcare Medicross, Netcare 911, National Renal Care and Netcare Cancer Care radiotherapy.
Netcare App: Netcare successfully launched its App in July 2023, which represents the next phase of the strategy to enable digital engagement with patients and clients. There has been a robust take-up of this App, which allows online pre-admissions, doctor appointments, the ability for Netcare 911 to geolocate someone in an emergency, access to a Summary of Care, and the ability to purchase NetcarePlus policies, with further services to be added in future.
Promoting access to healthcare: NetcarePlus has a portfolio of innovative healthcare products and funding solutions that promote access to affordable, quality healthcare in South Africa. In FY 2023, Netcare launched additional pre-paid procedures, completed enhancements to NetcarePlus GapCare and NetcarePlus Accident Cover, and also launched a new primary care offering.
Netcare Diagnostics: Netcare Diagnostics, which supports a Black female owned pathology service provider, Dr Esihle Nomlomo Inc., is gaining traction and made a positive contribution to EBITDA. The first stage rollout of 122 blood gas analysers at Netcare’s intensive care and high care units has been completed, with a further 70 point of care devices commissioned at ten emergency departments. Additionally, the service has been rolled out at ten Medicross facilities to date and will be extended to further sites in FY 2024.
Environmental sustainability: The first phase of the Group’s environmental sustainability strategy commenced in 2013. Since then, energy intensity per bed has reduced by 39%, exceeding the initial 10-year target. Similarly, the Group has exceeded its 2023 financial targets, achieving cumulative operational savings and benefits of more than R1.5 billion to date, yielding an IRR of 40%. In FY 2021, Netcare embarked on the second phase of its strategy, with a primary target of reducing Scope 2 emissions to zero by 2030 and Scope 1 and 3 emissions by a combined 84%. The Group’s 2030 strategy aims to achieve 100% utilisation from renewable sources, with zero waste to landfill and an additional 20% reduction of impact on water sources.
Outlook and guidance
Although the macro environment remains impacted by national power grid load shedding, global supply chain limitations, constrained consumers, and high levels of unemployment, Netcare has a number of measures in place to mitigate these challenges and remains focused on optimising the progress made in FY 2023. Furthermore, the environmental sustainability projects will continue to mitigate the significant escalation in costs associated with increased reliance on diesel powered generators resulting from the instability of the national electricity grid.
Although there has been limited growth in medical scheme membership, the pool of covered lives remains resilient and underscores the sustainable demand for quality private healthcare, which is exacerbated by the growing disease burden and ageing insured population.
For FY 2024, the Group expects revenue growth of between 7.5% and 9.5%. Total patient days are expected to grow by between 2.5% and 3.5% off a largely normalised base. The increased activity will drive further EBITDA margin expansion, improved earnings and a higher ROIC.
Netcare will continue to maintain an optimal capital structure, and the strength of the statement of financial position and the ongoing improvement in operational performance in the underlying businesses will continue to support dividend payments in line with the Group’s dividend policy. Netcare will also continue to return excess cash to shareholders by way of share buybacks or special dividends.
Dr Friedland concluded, “We are confident that our strategy remains relevant, and we are firmly committed to realising growth opportunities, improving returns and the successful execution and completion of our key strategic projects. Notwithstanding the fluid economic environment, we expect ongoing improvements in the operational and financial performance of the business in FY 2024 and beyond.”
NOTES TO JOURNALISTS
The Netcare Group (JSE: NTC) offers a unique, comprehensive range of medical services across the healthcare spectrum, enabling us to serve the health and care needs of each individual who entrusts their care to us. Our focus on implementing sophisticated digital systems will enable us to provide care that is fully integrated and an enhanced experience across our Group's operations. At Netcare, we are striving to change healthcare for the better. In addition to its world-class acute private hospital services, Netcare provides:
- radiosurgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy, bone marrow transplant and robotic-assisted surgery through Netcare Cancer Care;
- primary healthcare services through Netcare Medicross;
- emergency medical services through Netcare 911;
- occupational health and employee wellness services through Netcare Occupational Health;
- mental health and psychiatric services through Netcare Akeso;
- innovative solutions to increase access to quality and affordable private healthcare through NetcarePlus; and
- renal dialysis services through National Renal Care (NRC).
Netcare is also a leading private trainer of emergency medical and nursing personnel in the country.
For more information visit www.netcare.co.za.
Issued by: MNA on behalf of Netcare
Contact: Martina Nicholson, Meggan Saville or Estene Lotriet-Vorster
Telephone: (011) 469 3016
Email: [email protected], [email protected], [email protected] or [email protected]