Empangeni Hospital turns away breast cancer patients

Durban - Women needing to undergo screening for breast cancer are being turned away at a major KwaZulu-Natal hospital – because its mammogram machine has not worked for at least two months.

Ngwelezana Hospital in Empangeni has been without a mammogram machine since July, resulting in 600 women having to reschedule their appointments for breast cancer screening.

File picture. Credit: Jyn Meyer,

On Wednesday, acting hospital manager, Dr Bright Madlala, admitted that the machine was out of order.

Madlala said the hospital had been waiting since July for authorisation for the machine to be repaired, as well as other crucial medical equipment, such as its Lodox machine – which is a low dose X-ray machine used in hospital trauma wards.

He said the hospital was waiting on the KZN health department’s Health Technology Services (HTS) division to issue an “order to service ­providers” so they can repair the vital machines.

“All medical equipment in the hospital has service providers responsible for maintaining and servicing them where necessary,” explained Madlala.

“Once the quotation is received, it is sent to HTS, who then issue an order for the machine to be repaired. This is why there is sometimes a delay in repairing these machines.”

He said often replacement parts would need to be ordered from overseas, further delaying repairs.

Ngwelezana Hospital caters for residents of the Zululand, King Cetshwayo and uMkhanyakude districts, which, according to 2011 census data, have a combined population of around three million people.

On average, 60 000 new patients visit the hospital every year, with an average of 7 700 patients needing treatment every month.

Madlala said when their breast cancer testing machine is in working order, the hospital carries out an average of five mammograms a day.

The Lodox machine is an X-ray machine used in polytrauma cases (multiple traumatic injuries) to determine the extent of the injuries.

“For both these machines, quotations have been requested and were sent to HTS,” said Madlala.

The DA spokesman for health in KZN, MPL Dr Imran Keeka, yesterday said it was yet another slap in the face for women’s health.

“Effectively, around 700 patients would not have been screened for breast cancer during this time,” he said.

Keeka said breast cancer was one of the leading types of the disease in women in the province. The only other walk-in mammography service in KZN, is at RK Khan Hospital in Durban.

Keeka added: “Curable ­cancers are becoming incurable under a very uncaring government.”

The DA says it has raised its concerns regarding cancer and the shortage of equipment, both for diagnosis and treatment, with the SA Human Rights Commission.