Durban - The company that initially supplied and maintained cancer equipment at Addington Hospital has lashed out at the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Health, accusing it of lying and using an unqualified, untrained and newly registered supplier to maintain “sophisticated” medical equipment.
The province’s health department and its MEC, Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo, have come under intense criticism for allowing equipment used to treat public-sector cancer patients at Addington to fall into a state of disrepair.
This led to a flood of oncology patients at Albert Luthuli Central Hospital, dramatically increasing waiting times for patients in need of urgent treatment.
In a report last month, the South African Human Right Commission (SAHRC) found the department had “violated the rights of oncology patients at the Addington and Inkosi Albert Luthuli Central Hospitals to have access to health care services as a result of their failure to apply with applicable norms and standards set out in legislation and policies”.
The report found that machines worth millions of rand had been lying in a state of disrepair at Addington because of an alleged failure by the department to pay for maintenance due to contractual disputes. In its report, the commission ordered that the equipment be repaired immediately.
In a three-page statement sent to African News Agency (ANA) on Wednesday, Tecmed Africa – the company that initially won the tender to supply the equipment and was also commissioned to maintain it - said it was only paid R10.83 million for servicing the machines and was still owed a further R6 million for work done.
“The difference between the amount directed by the tender award and that which has been paid to Tecmed Africa equates to R 22,173,361.51 inc. VAT. This amount was never paid to Tecmed Africa,” said Werner Begeré, executive chairperson of Tecmed Africa.
Begeré said that despite Tecmed supplying a solicited quote in July 2015 for the repair and re-commissioning of the Addington machines, it had to date “not heard anything further from the department of health”.
Instead, the company found out through “sources” that a third party company had been appointed “without following any legal tendering processes”.
“If there had been a tender published for this, Tecmed Africa would have tendered,” said Begeré.
He said that Dhlomo and the department had directed various allegations at Tecmed Africa, including that the company sold and installed second hand equipment and then double-invoiced the department.
“Criminal cases were allegedly opened against Tecmed Africa by the Department of Health KZN, however not a single case number quoted is legitimate, nor has Tecmed Africa any knowledge of such,” he said.
Varian International, the United States-based manufacturer of the machines, had received a delegation from Treasury “where no proof of any irregularity performed by Tecmed Africa was identified,” according to Begeré.
“Shortly thereafter, Varian International themselves audited Tecmed Africa and found no ‘wrong-doings’ by Tecmed Africa, nor any irregularities in the Addington Hospital project,” he said.
Tecmed Africa was at the time the sole agent for Varian in South Africa.
When the machines were first installed in 2009, the Radiation Control Board visited and inspected the site, he said, “and confirmed that all equipment was brand new and met the stringent requirements of the directorate”. The Radiation Control Board does not allow second hand or pre-owned equipment to be imported to the country, he said.
Begeré further said that the department’s use of third party service providers proved to be “totally unsuccessful”.
“Linac 2, serial number 4401, had only a minor fault, which was easy to repair. Linac 1, serial number 4402, has never been repaired sufficiently to be re-commissioned. We believe that both Linacs are currently totally out of order, as well as the other supporting equipment and systems,” he said.
None of the third-party companies used by the department were trained or qualified to repair the “sophisticated” equipment, he said, and would fail any legal compliance testing.
Begeré said that due to the nature of oncology equipment, the systems required regular servicing because high levels of radiation destroyed components in the machines.
“Tecmed Africa is willing and prepared to immediately re-quote for the repair and re-commissioning of the system once the Government settles the outstanding amounts due to them,” he said.